Who Punishes? Personality Traits Predict Individual Variation in Punitive Sentiment


Roberts SC, Vakirtzis A, Kristjansdottir L & Havlicek J (2013) Who Punishes? Personality Traits Predict Individual Variation in Punitive Sentiment. Evolutionary Psychology, 11 (1), pp. 186-200.

Cross-culturally, participants in public goods games reward participants and punish defectors to a degree beyond that warranted by rational, profit-maximizing considerations. Costly punishment, where individuals impose costs on defectors at a cost to themselves, is thought to promote the maintenance of cooperation. However, despite substantial variation in the extent to which people punish, little is known about why some individuals, and not others, choose to pay these costs. Here, we test whether personality traits might contribute to variation in helping and punishment behavior. We first replicate a previous study using public goods scenarios to investigate effects of sex, relatedness and likelihood of future interaction on willingness to help a group member or to punish a transgressor. As in the previous study, we find that individuals are more willing to help related than unrelated needy others and that women are more likely to express desire to help than men. Desire to help was higher if the probability of future interaction is high, at least among women. In contrast, among these variables, only participant sex predicted some measures of punitive sentiment. Extending the replication, we found that punitive sentiment, but not willingness to help, was predicted by personality traits. Most notably, participants scoring lower on Agreeableness expressed more anger towards and greater desire to punish a transgressor, and were more willing to engage in costly punishment, at least in our scenario. Our results suggest that some personality traits may contribute to underpinning individual variation in social enforcement of cooperation.

reciprocity; altruistic punishment; prisoner's dilemma; ultimatum game; evolutionary economics; evolutionary psychology

Evolutionary Psychology: Volume 11, Issue 1

Publication date31/01/2013
Date accepted by journal16/11/2012