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Sunday, June 14, 2020

Social norms and cultural diversity in the development of third-party punishment

B. R. House and others
Proceedings of The Royal Society
Biological Sciences, 28720192794 (2020)


Human cooperation is probably supported by our tendency to punish selfishness in others. Social norms play an important role in motivating third-party punishment (TPP), and also in explaining societal differences in prosocial behaviour. However, there has been little work directly linking social norms to the development of TPP across societies. In this study, we explored the impact of normative information on the development of TPP in 603 children aged 4–14, across six diverse societies. Children began to perform TPP during middle childhood, and the developmental trajectories of this behaviour were similar across societies. We also found that social norms began to influence the likelihood of performing TPP during middle childhood in some of these societies. Norms specifying the punishment of selfishness were generally more influential than norms specifying the punishment of prosocial behaviour. These findings support the view that TPP of selfishness is important in all societies, and its development is shaped by a shared psychology for responding to normative information. Yet, the results also highlight the important role that children's prior knowledge of local norms may play in explaining societal variation in the development of both TPP and prosociality.

From the Conclusion and Discussion Section

Children's bias towards punishing selfish third parties increased during middle childhood, and this developmental pattern is similar across societies. Middle childhood is also when children across diverse societies become more prosocial and more averse to advantageous inequity. This raises the possibility that prosociality, advantageous inequity aversion and TPP may be developmentally coupled. In each of these cases, individuals incur personal costs to produce fairer outcomes for others. One explanation for this is that children become more responsive to social norms during middle childhood, leading them to become more likely to conform to social norms. This is consistent with our finding that norm primes begin to shape behaviour during middle childhood (although TPP norm primes were not effective in all societies).

The research is here.