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People prefer belonging to groups in which members can punish freeloaders

This press release is also available in German.

People are willing to inflict financial pain to achieve collective gain, according to a new study in the 07 April 2006 issue of the journal Science published by AAAS, the nonprofit science society.

In an experiment with volunteers at the University of Erfurt in Erfurt, Germany, researchers have found that groups in which individual members have the option to punish freeloaders were more popular than groups without this option.

Though two thirds of the study participants initially chose the group in which members could not punish others, many abandoned this nonpunishing group after seeing the greater financial rewards that come with cooperation that is maintained when individuals choose to punish freeloaders.

This new evidence for a competitive advantage for groups in which individuals can punish freeloaders may bring scientists closer to a general theory of human cooperation, the authors say.

Understanding the circumstances under which people cooperate is of great interest because addressing some of the world's most pressing issues, such as global climate change, may require people to act in the best interest of the group, according to the author of a related "Perspective" article.

The researchers asked 84 students from a German university to either join a virtual group that does not financially punish freeloaders or a group that is nearly identical but allows members to punish freeloaders.

The differences in cooperation between the two groups can be likened to neighboring towns with different reactions to those who pollute, explained Science author Bernd Irlenbusch from the London School of Economics in London, UK.

In a town where people notice and disapprove of those who pollute the environment, the threat of informal forms of punishment such as social exclu
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Contact: Science Press Package Staff
scipak@aaas.org
202-326-6440
American Association for the Advancement of Science
6-Apr-2006


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