Evolutionary Resilience (Synthesizing "Third Party Punishment" by Kurzban, DeScioli, and O’Brien and "He Hit Me First" by DeAngelis)

These are my first notes for my class on Genetic Politics since I finished the Buller, Pinker, and Ridley. The notes are from an unpublished manuscript, “Audience Effects on Moralistic Punishment,” by Robert Kurzban and two co-authors from the University of Pennsylvania. I previously described Bob Kurzban’s lecture on UNL, and some of that lecture was derived from this study.

The study’s findings of punishment increases when third parties are watching, which has an explanation in evolutionary psychology, relate to Stephen DeAngelis’ latest post on the destabilizing influence of escalating punishments. Stephen notes

Resilient organizations cannot afford to be caught up in this vicious circle. The reason that Tom and I promote standards-based development and rule sets in general is because they help mitigate behavior. The World Trade Organization, for example, was established so that a dispassionate group could rule on impassioned trade disputes. Even that doesn’t work all the time. The collapsed Doha Round of talks is clear evidence of that. Everyone recognizes that their collapse is a shameful failure and that the consequences are not likely to be beneficial — but that doesn’t seem to matter. The reason, of course, is that “all politics is local.” Gilbert concludes on the pessimistic note that old hatreds and intolerance still play a large role on the global stage.

An advantage of enforced rulesets is that they limit the need for every organization to prove that he is tough enough to protect itself in all ways. Rulesets help end the state of anarchy, which increases Peace and averts destruction of lives and property. Enforced local security rulesets have helped drive the murder rate down a hundred times in the past millennium. Enforced trade rule sets too can save many lives, by preventing countries from having to posture before the anonymous crowd.

The rest of this post are quotes from the research article which I may use later for my final project, tentatively entitled System Administrations for Phenotypes.


“People punish wrongdoers, intervening even when they themselves have not been harmed.” (Kurzban et al 3)

“Punishment has been linked with the evolution of cooperation in groups (Boyd & Richerson, 1992), a connection which has strengthened in recent years (Boyd, Gintis, Bowles, & Richerson, 2003; Fehr & Gächter, 2002).” 4)

“Indeed, Gintis, Smith, and Bowles (2001) found that punishment can yield signaling benefits when high quality individuals have reduced costs or increased benefits associated with punishment… That is, these models imply that selection pressures favored cognitive mechanisms whose operation is mediated by the presence of an audience” (Kurzban et al 5)

“Participants punished (i.e., chose the latter, less profitable option) 74% of the time.” (Kurzban et al 6)

“The presence of others has long been known to have effects on decisions to engage in more pro-social (Latane, 1970), and less anti-social (Diener, Fraser, Beaman, & Kelem, 1976) behavior, consistent with the view that people are concerned about others’ perceptions of them, especially in the domain of morality (Jones & Pittman, 1982). … Kurzban (2001), for example, showed that in a public goods game, having people exchange mutual oblique eye-gazes (but no information about others’ contributions) increased contributions to the public good in (all-male) groups compared to a control condition with no eye-gaze.” (Kurzban et al 8)

“Five experimental sessions were held in the Penn Laboratory for Evolutionary Experimental Psychology (PLEEP) at the University of Pennsylvania.” (Kurzban et al 10)

“The relatively high frequency of (D,C) is extremely unusual, a result for which we have no good explanation.” (Kurzban et al 17)

“Quite unexpectedly, in the Participants condition, at least one subject attempted to deceive others by announcing a false outcome.” (Kurzban et al 18)

“Under anonymous conditions, people did punish, but relatively little…In contrast, punishment increased when even one person knew the decisions made by the participant… No participants indicated in their free responses that they were punishing because they were being observed.” (Kurzban et al 19)

“This suggests that observation might activate emotional systems (e.g., anger) and attenuate systems for computing one’s own economic interest… These results, combined with those from the present study, suggest that anonymity has a weaker effect in the context of second party punishment than in third-party punishment.” (Kurzban et al 20)

“Demand characteristics refer to features of an experiment that allow participants to infer what is expected of them and, thereby, cause them to act in that way, limiting the inferences that can be drawn from the experiment (Orne, 1962).” (Kurzban et al 21)

“Second, arguments regarding the putatively modular system underlying punishment suggest that mere cues of social presence, such as eyespots, might exert effects similar to actual social presence (e.g., Haley & Fessler, 2005).” (Kurzban et al 23)

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