Punish and voice: punishment enhances cooperation when combined with norm-signalling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


  • Giulia Andrighetto
  • Jordi Brandts
  • Rosaria Conte
  • Jordi Sabater-Mir
  • Daniel Villatoro

External organisations

  • Institute of Cognitive Science and Technology, National Research Council (CNR), Rome, Italy
  • Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Institut d’Anàlisi Econòmica, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), and Barcelona Graduate School of Economics, Barcelona, Spain
  • Institut d’Investigació en Intelligència Artificial, CSIC, Barcelona, Spain


Material punishment has been suggested to play a key role in sustaining human cooperation. Experimental findings, however, show that inflicting mere material costs does not always increase cooperation and may even have detrimental effects. Indeed, ethnographic evidence suggests that the most typical punishing strategies in human ecologies (e.g., gossip, derision, blame and criticism) naturally combine normative information with material punishment. Using laboratory experiments with humans, we show that the interaction of norm communication and material punishment leads to higher and more stable cooperation at a lower cost for the group than when used separately. In this work, we argue and provide experimental evidence that successful human cooperation is the outcome of the interaction between instrumental decision-making and the norm psychology humans are provided with. Norm psychology is a cognitive machinery to detect and reason upon norms that is characterized by a salience mechanism devoted to track how much a norm is prominent within a group. We test our hypothesis both in the laboratory and with an agent-based model. The agent-based model incorporates fundamental aspects of norm psychology absent from previous work. The combination of these methods allows us to provide an explanation for the proximate mechanisms behind the observed cooperative behaviour. The consistency between the two sources of data supports our hypothesis that cooperation is a product of norm psychology solicited by norm-signalling and coercive devices.


Original languageEnglish
Article numbere64941
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jun 2013