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To qualify as a social partner, humans hide severe punishment, although their observed cooperativeness is decisive


Milinski,  Manfred
Department Evolutionary Ecology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Max Planck Society;

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Rockenbach, B., & Milinski, M. (2011). To qualify as a social partner, humans hide severe punishment, although their observed cooperativeness is decisive. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108(45), 18307-18312. doi:10.1073/pnas.1108996108.

Conflicts of interest between the community and its members are at the core of human social dilemmas. If observed selfishness has future costs, individuals may hide selfish acts but display altruistic ones, and peers aim at identifying the most selfish persons to avoid them as future social partners. An interaction involving hiding and seeking information may be inevitable. We staged an experimental social-dilemma game in which actors could pay to conceal information about their contribution, giving, and punishing decisions from an observer who selects her future social partners from the actors. The observer could pay to conceal her observation of the actors. We found sophisticated dynamic strategies on either side. Actors hide their severe punishment and low contributions but display high contributions. Observers select high contributors as social partners; remarkably, punishment behavior seems irrelevant for qualifying as a social partner. That actors nonetheless pay to conceal their severe punishment adds a further puzzle to the role of punishment in human social behavior. Competition between hiding and seeking information about social behavior may be even more relevant and elaborate in the real world but usually is hidden from our eyes.