Study: punishment motivated by disadvantage

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Disadvantage main motivation for punishments

People who feel treated unfairly punish offenses particularly severely. Researchers from University College London (UK) and Harvard University in Cambridge (USA) have investigated whether punishments are more likely to be motivated by "injustice versions" or the desire for "reciprocity" (like you me, like me). In the computer experiment, they found that the majority of those cheated only impose a penalty if the fraudster ends up being better off than the victim due to his offense. Crimes à la Robin Hood therefore remained unpunished.

As part of their study, the researchers led by Nichola Raihani from the Institute for Genetic Evolution and the Environment at University College London analyzed which factors determine the amount of the punishment desired by the victim after fraud. Until now it was unclear whether the desire for retaliation - according to the motto "an eye for an eye" - is the main motivation for punishment or the feeling of justice or the rejection of injustice. Now Raihani and colleagues report in the specialist magazine "Biology Letters" that the injustice aversion carries a much higher weight than the desire for reciprocity.

Punishment Motivated by Injustice In the course of their study, the researchers subjected 560 patients to a computer experiment. Subjects between the ages of 16 and 69 (average age 29 years) were divided into two groups and then completed a computer simulation in which one group had the opportunity to steal money from the other and the second group could pronounce different levels of punishment . The scientists found that the defrauded would usually tolerate the offenses if the thieves did not end up doing better than themselves. However, if the thieves had more money than the defrauded after the fraud, the majority of them chose a punishment, Nichola wrote Raihani in the article "Human punishment is motivated by aversion to injustice, not by the desire for reciprocity".

Weighing up the profits of fraudsters and their own losses in punishment Apparently, the defrauded compare their own losses with the profit of the thief before deciding on a punishment, the scientists say. However, according to Nichola Raihani and colleagues, the question arises: “Why do people engage in a cognitively complex task of monitoring their own profits compared to those of the interaction partners, instead of simply monitoring their own losses and taking them into account when punishing the fraudsters? In the case of the few animal species that also use the punishment of their peers, according to the researchers, their own loss most likely forms the basis of the punishment. The cognitive abilities are simply not sufficient to assess not only one's own loss but also the profit of one's own kind.

Just penalties promote cooperative behavior. People, on the other hand, weigh up their own losses and the illegal gain of the fraudster when deciding on a punishment. The reason for this complex behavior has not yet been finally clarified. "One possibility is that the punishment only promotes cooperative behavior if the punishment is considered fair," said Nichola Raihani. In addition, a disproportionate, excessive punishment can also harm cooperative behavior, since it triggers a desire for retaliation among those affected, the researchers suspect. However, there are no scientific studies on this so far, so that "this is an interesting possibility for future investigations," write Nichola Raihani and colleagues. (fp)

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