Thursday, 5 January 2012

The evolution of supposedly-altruistic punishment

I am pretty sceptical about many of the proposed applications of cultural group selection. It seems as though most of the features which advocates of cultural group selection propose can be explained more simply in other ways.

For example, the paper entitled The evolution of altruistic punishment explains the origins of human punishment using a model of cultural group selection.

However: there are many individual-level benefits to punishing others - in particlar, punishment is a high-status activity, which increases the punisher's rank at the expense of the rank of the recipient of punishment. Punishing others thus signals high status and improves your reputation - which may produce future benefits.

The finding that some people still expend resources punishing in anonymous one-shot interactions is probably best explained largely by resource-limited cognition - in conjunction with the unnatural nature of such interactions.


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