How Larger Social Groups Insure Cooperation

DolceTracker| We find the use of the word ‘punishment’ regrettable in a new study describing how societies self-regulate. Researchers at the Santa Fe Institute’s Behavioral Sciences Program, the European Science Foundation and the University of Siena do not suggest that ‘free-riders’ in society go to jail or have an arm cut off by not cooperating with the group. The word ‘punishment’ in America is almost always associated with violence or incarceration.

Prior anthropological studies have suggested that enforcement of behavioral cooperation in tribes is random. Not so says the new study. To maintain cooperation and civic participation in larger societies that extend beyond the cooperative nature of families and small groups or neighborhoods, cultures have prices to pay for ‘free-riding’.

Although these societies are larger, members are still known and monitored in the group. A ‘free-rider’ is identified and may be not allowed to marry, for example. Because a person knows that s{he} will lose societal benefits by not cooperating in supporting the larger group, ‘free-riders’ get on the community bus, so to speak. 

The ‘punishment’ could be ostracization and lack of inclusion in community events — a public censure. “Boyd argues that even in societies without formal institutions for establishing rules and methods of punishment, group punishment appears to be effective at maintaining cooperation.”

Although not the focus of the research, the study suggests that religion may not be the required moderator of group behavior, but rather than humans have an innate capacity to self-organize in effectively run societies. My comment does not embrace the idea that spirituality is unimportant but rather that it’s not a requirement for insuring self-regulated, positive human behavior. Anne