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Published June 23, 2006 | Supplemental Material
Journal Article Open

Costly Punishment Across Human Societies


Recent behavioral experiments aimed at understanding the evolutionary foundations of human cooperation have suggested that a willingness to engage in costly punishment, even in one-shot situations, may be part of human psychology and a key element in understanding our sociality. However, because most experiments have been confined to students in industrialized societies, generalizations of these insights to the species have necessarily been tentative. Here, experimental results from 15 diverse populations show that (i) all populations demonstrate some willingness to administer costly punishment as unequal behavior increases, (ii) the magnitude of this punishment varies substantially across populations, and (iii) costly punishment positively covaries with altruistic behavior across populations. These findings are consistent with models of the gene-culture coevolution of human altruism and further sharpen what any theory of human cooperation needs to explain.

Additional Information

© 2006 American Association for the Advancement of Science. 13 March 2006; Accepted 9 May 2006. We first thank our study participants, who welcomed us into their homes, lives, and communities. This research was funded primarily by the NSF in the United States(grant BCS-0136761), with additional support from the MacArthur Foundation's Norms and Preferences Network. Thanks also to our many research assistants.

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