Monday, December 22, 2008

Punishment Works

Here's an article sure to warm the heart of every give-peace-a-chance, punishment-is-just-barbaric-revenge tree-hugger out there:

"The threat of punishment actually does stamp out freeloaders, tending to transform them into rule-following members of a society, a new study suggests.

The research results show how established norms and rules in a society could keep freeloaders in check and increase pro-social behavior, such as helping others or sharing with them rather than looking out for number one.

In the past, studies have found that while punishing freeloaders can increase their cooperation with others, the punishment itself was too costly and in the end, punishment wouldn't be worth it. These past studies were based on short-term effects, however.

The new study shows that over the long term, punishment gets ingrained in people's psyches in a way that causes them to fear getting into trouble. This fear can keep otherwise freeloaders, who would normally act as sponges to soak up the generosity of others without having to contribute any time or money, on the straight-and-narrow.

"I believe the experimental work is extremely important and timely, as many researchers had voiced concern whether punishment is not too costly a tool to promote cooperation," said Karl Sigmund of the University of Vienna, who was not involved in the current study. Sigmund studies the evolution of cooperation among other topics.

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