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