Explaining the evolution of parochial punishment in humans

Dos Santos, Miguel; Knoch, Daria (2021). Explaining the evolution of parochial punishment in humans. Evolution and human behavior, 42(3), pp. 204-211. Elsevier 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2020.10.002

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Humans usually favour members of their own group, ethnicity or culture (parochial cooperation), and punish out-group wrongdoers more harshly (parochial punishment). The evolution of parochial cooperation is mainly explained by intergroup conflict, as restricting cooperation to in-groups can provide a relative advantage during conflict. However, explanations for the evolution of parochial punishment are still lacking. It is unclear whether conflict can also explain parochial punishment, because conflict is expected to lead to full hostility towards out-groups, irrespective of their behaviour. Here, we use an agent-based simulation to explore which conditions favour the evolution of parochial third-party punishment. We show that when groups interact and then engage in conflict with each other, third-party punishment is not parochial but spiteful, and directed towards all out-groups. A parochial bias in punishment decisions evolves (i) without conflict, when groups compete against nature and enforcing cooperation requires many punitive actions, and (ii) with conflict, when groups come into conflict with a group other than one they previously interacted with. Our findings suggest that intergroup conflict does not always lead to parochial punishment, and that stable collaborative relations between groups is a key factor promoting third-party parochial punishment. Our findings also provide novel predictions on how punishment and intergroup conflict influence in-group bias in human societies.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology
07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology > Social Neuroscience and Social Psychology

UniBE Contributor:

Dos Santos, Miguel, Knoch, Daria


100 Philosophy
100 Philosophy > 150 Psychology
300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology








Andrea Gassmann-Suter

Date Deposited:

20 Nov 2020 10:45

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:41

Publisher DOI:






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