Who initiates punishment, who joins punishment? Disentangling types of third-party punishers by neural traits

Baumgartner, Thomas; Hausfeld, Jan; Dos Santos, Miguel; Knoch, Daria (2021). Who initiates punishment, who joins punishment? Disentangling types of third-party punishers by neural traits. Human brain mapping, 42(17), pp. 5703-5717. Wiley-Blackwell 10.1002/hbm.25648

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The act of punishing unfair behavior by unaffected observers (i.e., third-party punishment) is a crucial factor in the functioning of human societies. In everyday life, we see different types of individuals who punish. While some individuals initiate costly punishment against an unfair person independently of what other observers do (independent punishers), others condition their punishment engagement on the presence of another person who punishes (conditional punishers). Still others do not want to partake in any sort of punishment (non-punishers). Although these distinct behavioral types have a divergent impact on human society, the sources of heterogeneity are poorly understood. We present novel laboratory evidence on the existence of these three types. We use anatomical brain characteristics in combination with stated motives to characterize these types. Findings revealed that independent punishers have larger gray matter volume in the right temporo-parietal junction compared to conditional punishers and non-punishers, an area involved in social cognition. Conditional punishers are characterized by larger gray matter volume in the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a brain area known to be involved in behavioral control and strategic reasoning, compared to independent punishers and non-punishers. Finally, both independent punishers and non-punishers are characterized by larger gray matter volume in an area involved in the processing of social and monetary rewards, i.e., the bilateral caudate. By using a neural trait approach, we were able to differentiate these three types clearly based on their neural signatures, allowing us to shed light on the underlying psychological mechanisms.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


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

UniBE Contributor:

Baumgartner, Thomas, Hausfeld, Jan, Dos Santos, Miguel, Knoch, Daria


300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
500 Science > 570 Life sciences; biology








Thomas Baumgartner

Date Deposited:

30 Sep 2021 16:53

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:53

Publisher DOI:


PubMed ID:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

third-party punishment, neural trait, punishment types, conditional punisher, brain anatomy





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