Hostname: page-component-7d684dbfc8-d9hj2 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-09-30T00:22:42.420Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "coreDisableSocialShare": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForArticlePurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForBookPurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForElementPurchase": false, "coreUseNewShare": true, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

The social structure of cooperation and punishment

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 January 2012

Herbert Gintis
Santa Fe Institute, Santa Fe, NM 87501.
Ernst Fehr
Department of Economics and Laboratory for Social and Neural Systems Research, University of Zurich, CH-8006 Zurich, Switzerland.


The standard theories of cooperation in humans, which depend on repeated interaction and reputation effects among self-regarding agents, are inadequate. Strong reciprocity, a predisposition to participate in costly cooperation and the punishment, fosters cooperation where self-regarding behaviors fail. The effectiveness of socially coordinated punishment depends on individual motivations to participate, which are based on strong reciprocity motives. The relative infrequency of high-cost punishment is a result of the ubiquity of strong reciprocity, not its absence.

Open Peer Commentary
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Batson, C. D. (1991) The altruism question: Toward a social-psychological answer. Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Boehm, C. (1984) Blood revenge: The enactment and management of conflict in Montenegro and other tribal societies. University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
Boehm, C. (1999) Hierarchy in the forest: The evolution of egalitarian behavior. Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Bowles, S. & Gintis, H. (2004) The evolution of strong reciprocity: Cooperation in heterogeneous populations. Theoretical Population Biology 65(1):1728. Available at: ScholarPubMed
Bowles, S. & Gintis, H. (2005) Prosocial emotions. In: The economy as an evolving complex system III, ed. Lawrence, E. B. & Steven, N. D., pp. 339–66. Santa Fe Institute.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bowles, S. & Gintis, H. (2011) A cooperative species: Human reciprocity and its evolution. Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Boyd, R., Gintis, H. & Bowles, S. (2010) Coordinated punishment of defectors sustains cooperation and can proliferate when rare. Science 328(5978):617–20. Available at: ScholarPubMed
Cinyabuguma, M., Page, T. & Putterman, L. (2005) Cooperation under the threat of expulsion in a public goods experiment. Journal of Public Economics 89:1421–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fehr, E. & Gächter, S. (2000a) Cooperation and punishment in public goods experiments. American Economic Review 90(4):980–94. Available at: Scholar
Fehr, E. & Gächter, S. (2000b) Fairness and retaliation: The economics of reciprocity. Journal of Economic Perspectives 14(3):159–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fehr, E. & Gächter, S. (2002) Altruistic punishment in humans. Nature 415(6868):137–40. Available at: ScholarPubMed
Fehr, E., Gächter, S. & Kirchsteiger, G. (1997) Reciprocity as a contract enforcement device: Experimental evidence. Econometrica 65(4):833–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fehr, E. & Gintis, H. (2007) Human motivation and social cooperation: Experimental and analytical foundations. Annual Review of Sociology 33:4364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gintis, H. (2000) Strong reciprocity and human sociality. Journal of Theoretical Biology 206(2):169–79. Available at: ScholarPubMed
Gintis, H. (2004) The genetic side of gene-culture coevolution: Internalization of norms and prosocial emotions. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 53(1):5767.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gintis, H. (2005) Behavioral game theory and contemporary economic theory. Analyze Kritik 27(1):4872.Google Scholar
Gintis, H. (2009) The bounds of reason: Game theory and the unification of the behavioral sciences. Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Henrich, J., Ensminger, J., McElreath, R., Barr, A., Barrett, C., Bolyanatz, A., Cardenas, J. C., Gurven, M., Gwako, E., Henrich, N., Lesorogol, C., Marlowe, F., Tracer, D. P. & Ziker, J. (2010a) Market, religion, community size and the evolution of fairness and punishment. Science 327:1480–84. Available at: Scholar
Masclet, D., Noussair, C., Tucker, S. & Villeval, M.-C. (2003) Monetary and nonmonetary punishment in the voluntary contributions mechanism. American Economic Review 93(1):366–80. Available at: Scholar
Wiessner, P. (2005) Norm enforcement among the Ju/'hoansi bushmen: A case for strong reciprocity? Human Nature 16(2):115–45. Available at: ScholarPubMed
Wiessner, P. (2009) Experimental games and games of life among the Ju/'hoan Bushmen. Current Anthropology 50(1):133–38. Available at: Scholar