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Soc Sci Res. 2013 Mar;42(2):562-70. doi: 10.1016/j.ssresearch.2012.10.004. Epub 2012 Oct 29.

A normative explanation of antisocial punishment.

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Department of Sociology, Baylor University, Waco, TX 76798, United States. Electronic address:


While much research shows that people punish free-riders, recent studies find evidence that people also engage in antisocial punishment. That is, they sometimes punish those who contribute generously to collective actions. Such sanctioning is puzzling because generous individuals increase the welfare of all group members. When and why are such individuals punished? In this paper, we propose that descriptive norms are part of the explanation. People may sanction those whose behavior is atypical - even when that behavior benefits the group. We test our theory with a laboratory experiment. We examine the effect of descriptive norms on sanctioning of generous and stingy deviants and find that descriptive norms encourage antisocial punishment, but not punishment of free-riders.

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