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People prefer belonging to groups in which members can punish freeloaders

their contributions after seeing that others were freeloading.

Many of these initially punishment-averse people switched over to the punishing group and immediately adopted the established culture of cooperation. The former freeloaders contributed significantly to the group account and punished freeloaders -- even though you have to pay to punish.

"You can't explain this dramatic change in behavior by saying that people are just looking for the best payoff. People gave up payoff to follow the cooperative norm," explained Science author Bettina Rockenbach from the University of Erfurt in Erfurt, Germany.

"I was surprised so many of the freeloaders exerted punishment on others when they entered the sanctioning institution," said Irlenbusch.

The immediate switch from freeloader to cooperator and punisher is consistent with theories of cultural and institutional selection, the authors say. These theories suggest that people preferentially migrate to groups with higher payoffs and imitate the decisions prevalent in those groups.

"New members of the sanctioning institution punish because it is common to do so," said Rockenbach. She noted that this new work supports the idea that cultural selection -- the notion that culture can evolve in ways similar to Darwin's natural selection -- plays a role in the establishment and maintenance of cooperation.

By forcing sanctioning and nonsanctioning institutions to compete head-to-head in an experimental setting, the authors also present empirical support for the idea that institutions with built-in sanctioning mechanisms can establish norms of cooperation and out-compete institutions lacking mechanisms for punishing freeloaders.

Within the sanctioning institution, the culture of cooperation remained, and even strengthened as streams of outsiders from a non-cooperative environment joined and quickly adopted their cooperative behavior, the scientists found.

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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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