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Trends Cogn Sci. 2004 Apr;8(4):185-90.

Social norms and human cooperation.

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University of Zurich, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics, Bl├╝mlisalpstrasse 10, CH-8006 Zurich, Switzerland. <>


The existence of social norms is one of the big unsolved problems in social cognitive science. Although no other concept is invoked more frequently in the social sciences, we still know little about how social norms are formed, the forces determining their content, and the cognitive and emotional requirements that enable a species to establish and enforce social norms. In recent years, there has been substantial progress, however, on how cooperation norms are enforced. Here we review evidence showing that sanctions are decisive for norm enforcement, and that they are largely driven by non-selfish motives. Moreover, the explicit study of sanctioning behavior provides instruments for measuring social norms and has also led to deeper insights into the proximate and ultimate forces behind human cooperation.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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