Consequence of Behavior
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Wed, 19 Apr 2006 08:44:40 -0700 (PDT)
An interesting article on the New York Times on how the lack of consequences for behavior affects cooperative communities. "Sociologists have long known that communes and other cooperative groups usually collapse into bickering and disband if they do not have clear methods of punishing members who become selfish or exploitative." They say "punishment" but are really talking about "lack of" punishment.

Interestingly they article says that initially, everyone prefer communities where there is no punishment, just good will, but this invites opportunists and freeloaders. No community that does not have consequences for behavior has lasted long.

A link and summary below: science/07punish.html&tntemail1=y

The study, appearing today in the journal Science, suggests that groups with few rules attract many exploitative people who quickly undermine cooperation. By contrast, communities that allow punishment, and in which power is distributed equally, are more likely to draw people who, even at their own cost, are willing to stand up to miscreants.

An expert not involved in the study, Elinor Ostrom, co-director of the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis at Indiana University has done fieldwork with cooperatives around the world and said she often asked other researchers and students whether they knew of any long-lasting communal group that did not employ a system of punishment. "No one can give me an example," she said.

In the experiment, investigators at the University of Erfurt in Germany enrolled 84 students in the investment game and gave them 20 tokens apiece to start. In each round of the game, every participant decided whether to hold on to the tokens or invest some of them in a fund whose guaranteed profit was distributed equally among all members of the group, including the "free riders" who sat on their money. Because the profit was determined by a multiple of the tokens invested, each participant who contributed to the fund enjoyed less of a return than if the free riders had done so as well.

The tokens could be redeemed for real money at the end of the experiment.

About two-thirds of the students initially chose to play in a group that did not permit punishment. In the other group, the students had the option in each round of penalizing other players; it cost one token to dock another player three tokens. All participants could see who was contributing what as the game progressed, and could choose to switch groups before each round.

By the fifth round, about half of those who began the study in the no-penalty group had switched to the punitive one. A smaller number of students migrated in the other direction, but by Round 20 most had come back and the punishment-free community was a virtual ghost town.

Being exploited appeared to cause deep frustration and anger in most students.

Sharon Villines
Building Community: A Guide to Creating New Neighborhoods

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