Monday, February 25, 2013

Altruistic punishment

I had not heard of the phrase altruistic punishment (or had forgotten it), until I read this BBC article talking about why motorists hate cyclists for what they perceive to be cheating in the typical rules of the road, e.g. passing on the right, not waiting their turn, etc. Some motorists hate cyclists so much they would like to run them down. Why? Altruistic punishment:


Humans seem to have evolved one way of enforcing order onto potentially chaotic social arrangements. This is known as "altruistic punishment", a term used by Ernst Fehr and Simon Gachter in a landmark paper published in 2002. An altruistic punishment is a punishment that costs you as an individual, but doesn't bring any direct benefit. As an example, imagine I'm at a football match and I see someone climb in without buying a ticket. I could sit and enjoy the game (at no cost to myself), or I could try to find security to have the guy thrown out (at the cost of missing some of the game). That would be altruistic punishment.

Altruistic punishment, Fehr and Gachter reasoned, might just be the spark that makes groups of unrelated strangers co-operate. 

The researchers set up a game in which players were incentivized to cheat in repeated rounds of the game, until...


A simple addition to the rules reversed this collapse of co-operation, and that was the introduction of altruistic punishment. Fehr and Gachter allowed players to fine other players credits, at a cost to themselves. This is true altruistic punishment because the groups change after each round, and the players are anonymous. There may have been no direct benefit to fining other players, but players fined often and they fined hard – and, as you'd expect, they chose to fine other players who hadn't chipped in on that round. The effect on cooperation was electric. With altruistic punishment, the average amount each player contributed rose and rose, instead of declining. The fine system allowed cooperation between groups of strangers who wouldn't meet again, overcoming the challenge of the free rider problem.

So this was interesting to read, because for the most part I don't participate in altruistic punishment. And by that I mean to say I don't think I do or ever have, but I'm reluctant to say something so certain without its having been on my radar for the entirety of my existence.

To give an example, on a recent trip my phone was stolen. I have tracking software installed on it and was able to track my phone going away into a sketchy part of the city where I was visiting until it stayed there. I sent some messages offering a "found" reward and sort of threatening police action, but really it was a longshot. The next morning I went to the store to buy a new phone. I asked the guy if I could transfer my extended warranty on the phone to the new phone and he said no, but he could label it as "stolen".

"What happens when it gets labeled as stolen? Do you somehow prevent them from using the phone?"

"No, but if they bring it and ask to have it repaired, we tell them it's stolen."

"Do you confiscate it?"

"No, usually they just walk out of the store with it immediately."

"Well, what's the point?"

"They wouldn't be able to use our services or benefit from the warrantee."

"Oh, well, then no. I want them to benefit from the warranty. I paid for that, someone should benefit from it. And good on them for managing to steal my phone."

Maybe the store owner thought that I was being particularly forgiving, and in a way I guess I was, but really it was just realizing that I had gotten beat at a game whose rules I of course had understood and accepted when I bought the expensive phone and traipsed around with it all over.

I suppose even if I had listed it as "stolen" it wouldn't have even been that altruistic because there didn't seem to be any additional cost to me in terms of time lost or whatever. But this makes me think it's even less likely that I would actually altruistically punish people. This doesn't mean that I don't hold grudges or keep score sometimes and try to punish people for benefits that accrue directly to me somehow (reputational or establishing a particular power dynamic). And I guess I might from time to time take on someone else's "cause" just for the sake of having an excuse to rabble-rouse -- but I don't really believe in the righteousness of the cause.

Why don't I altruistically punish? Could have something to do with the origins of the impulse:

They dished out fines because they were mad as hell. Fehr and Gachter, like the good behavioural experimenters they are, made sure to measure exactly how mad that was, by asking players to rate their anger on a scale of one to seven in reaction to various scenarios. When players were confronted with a free-rider, almost everyone put themselves at the upper end of the anger scale. Fehr and Gachter describe these emotions as a “proximate mechanism”. This means that evolution has built into the human mind a hatred of free-riders and cheaters, which activates anger when we confront people acting like this – and it is this anger which prompts altruistic punishment. In this way, the emotion is evolution's way of getting us to overcome our short-term self-interest and encourage collective social life.

Of course because it is emotionally driven and not necessarily rational, it leads to such anti-social behaviors as advocating for violence against cyclists.








53 comments:

  1. Whenever I feel a bit blue, I like to visit this blog, as a reminder, of how small my problems really are.

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    1. i'll whip out my problem and you can see how BIG it is

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  2. Replies
    1. Because you guys are just the sweetest things.

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  3. there are another couple of reasons this altruistic punishment may have evolved. firstly, ostentatious displays like this convince others of the person's virtue - which may be of benefit in future dealings. secondly, publicly taking a hit by choice is essentially declaring "i have so many assets i can afford to lose some", ie. the person is declaring how well off they are.

    both these can be selfish

    it is for the higher functioning psychopath to judge the cost:benefit of an individual situation; eg. ME had nothing to potentially gain long term from a stranger so there was no benefit in her locking the phone.

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    1. But nothing to lose either, and as all it takes is to say "yeah you can lock it" it doesn't even take any effort. So why not?

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  4. Not reporting a stolen phone as stolen is not 'taking no part in altruistic punishment' as ME suggests.

    What ME is doing is self-punishment, self-directed anger for flaunting a high end item in a poor neighborhood. This is how ME learns effectively not to repeat the same mistake.

    Plus this is how she cuts the chord from getting further attached to the 'victim' position and labeling she so despises.

    All that concludes ME was acting in her best 'psychological' interest given the situation.

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    1. Expand on this

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    2. You have enough shit in your life, you're conditioned to step over it or get your hands dirty, have to wash them off, think about said shit, it gets underneath fingernails, etc etc... Why bother?

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    3. Sceli 9:59 am was not me. I have to admit it was funny to read.

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    4. I believe M.E. did evidence altruistic punishment, though she doesn't yet recognize it. The focus of her punishment was not the people who stole her phone, with whom she might even identify with to some degree. The punishment was aimed at the phone company for their stupid, unfair policy. Why should they benefit from her loss by avoiding the possible cost of warranty, etc.? They have done nothing to earn any benefit. As far as effort, even the thieves were more enterprising...

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  5. In my opinion, altruistic punishment is ridiculously stupid. Why should I care about what rules other people are breaking unless it affects me? And furthermore, why the hell would I "bring their wrongs to justice" at some cost to myself. I'll leave all that shit to people with "morals"

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    1. You're kinda right.
      But in my experience, there are definately some situations where you gotta cut off your own arm, to take someone else out, for example someone that pissed you off.

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    2. And that would be the "unless it affects me" part ;)

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    3. Or when you're in game mode.

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    4. "I'll leave all that shit to people with "morals""- M.Brig

      LOLOLOLOL Hilarious!!!!!!

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  6. Excuses, excuses...

    Admit it, you're a coward.

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  7. Gather Round Chillren. Another Episode


    I am marching to eternity. I stare straight ahead, as if it is a serious journey. I am dressed for the occasion. I tend not to fool around, in important things.
    I am marching to nowhere, but you knew that.

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  8. Are you sure you're a psychopath? My psychopathic ex would have chased the guy down to whatever shithole he lived in and eaten him and the phone alive! And he can afford to lose any number of phones.

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    1. Same here. ME is right, it can be considered as a game but I'm a bad loser.
      Vengeance isn't an emotion, so it has nothing to do with sociopathy. I guess it's just that ME can be generous and forgiving.

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    2. or his time is valuable.

      if you can afford to lose any number of phones isn't that a bit like chasing down someone over a pair of socks? you sort of lose twice.

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    3. Thing is at that stage, it's no longer about the phone. He's time-rich as well as cash-rich so he wouldn't give a shit about the time. He'd be tasting blood and unwilling to walk away.

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    4. Zoe, it takes time to chase the phone, but not to make it locked. I think this is just about vengeance, which is perfectly understandable.

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  9. What's the drill with sociopaths ME, I broke up with ex 'path over a year ago - his self-obsession got boring - but he's still sending messages blah blah. When does the guy's pride kick in and tell him to stop?

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    Replies
    1. When he finds a new person to satisfy him sexually! LMAO!!!!!

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    2. Jeez, he's a good looking guy, how long does it take... wish he would hurry up already.

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    3. Clearly beyond the realm of your experience Monica but come back to me if you ever have to deal with it, LOL.

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    4. LOL Who you be, first of all, so I am not feeling in the dark, so to speak~

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    5. yeah,it'a numbers game. same with sex addicts and narcissists. they look for the fastest fix and put out feelers everywhere to make chance higher, that's all,.

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  10. I have a story of this "Altrustic Punishment" that happened one morning at the methadone clinic and I would like to hear your thoughts on this......

    First of all, I was not involved in anyway other than being a bystander......

    Okay, so Iam in the methadone clinic after I dosed. This guy that I have never seen before was following this girl in her 20's, her 2 kids (a boy and a girl about 3-4 years of age each) and her boyfriend.........

    He actually pulled his car in and parked in the clinic parking lot and when he got out he screamed "He just hit her!!!!!" and he was very pissed about it.......

    Apparently, the girl, her kids and boyfriend were getting off the bus and walking to the clinic and on the walk he ended up punching the girl in the face in front of her 2 children.......... So the man who witnessed it immediatly called the police and since my clinic is in a very "high crime area" of town the police are ALWAYS close by.......

    So the couple and the kids walk into the clinic and the man just kept following them and yelling that he hit her and as the guy who hit the girl walked up to the window to get his dose, a sherrif came up behind his and grabbed him and he said "Just let me get my dose first!" and the sheriff said " If you havent done anything wrong you will be able to get your dose in a few minutes, Iam conducting an investigation right now."

    So meanwhile like 3 other sheriffs show up and the guy who witnessed the girl being hit told them everything he saw and the girl had marks on her face so they arrested her boyfriend....... Than the girl started crying and FREAKING OUT in front of her kids telling the police she dosent want him arrested and BLAH BLAH BLAH..... Well they arrested the guy, took him to jail without letting him dose his methadone (So he would have to detox/withdraw from methadone in jail!!! LOL HAHAHA Serves him right!!!!!) and let the girl go with her kids and gave her domestic violence papers.......


    But I thought it was really nice and cool of that guy to call the cops and take the time out of his day like he did, because he was on his way to work at the time and stopped just to help a person he has never even met........ Thats a true empath right there.........

    PS- She was a terrible mother, one day she dropped $10 on the floor and some guy picked it up and ran off and she started crying and said "I needed that money to get food for my kids", than this really nice guy said "Lets go to walmart and Ill buy food for your kids so they wont go hungry" and she looked at him with a pissed off look, got into her friends car, and left the clinic, so that is the kind of mother she is........ and she has since had both of her children taken away and gotten pregnant AGAIN....... Dumb bitch......

    What are your opinions of this story Sociopathworld? Does it match what M.E. is talking about?



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    1. PS- If you guys didnt get what I was saying at the end, she was going to buy drugs with her money but wanted to seem like a good mother by saying she was gonna spend it on food for her kids but when the guy offered to but her food for the kids she shot him a pissed off/mean look and got in her friends car and left......

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    2. i don't think it's the same, but a good story.

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    3. I wish people like that would just get hit by a car. They are annoying, dumb and worthless.

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    4. Hi Rich !!! yes i got that.

      I think that its unfortunate that lady didnt take the guy up on the food for her kids. she had another priority. I usually do not like to see people tell a beggar they will go with them to buy them food. so what if they are going to buy themselves whiskey, who gives a fuck? if you are true altruist, you make the poor and unfortunate happy in the moment. Plus if you got mugged, that drunk could see it and remember you for the nice bottle you afforded him and save your LIFE oneday!

      RIch, there was this guy i see all the time in a wheelchair--total scam artist druggie. someone wanted to give him a packaged gourmet kielbasa or something, and he took his time looking at the ingredients like a scholar and said no he's a vegetarian, do they have any money instead. He got money!. I thought the people who gave him money were dumb bitches. He should have thanked jesus for the generosity of the kielbasa giver, but no. And then people STILL gave $ to this "vegetarian" scam artist!!! He knew i knew what he was doing, I tipped him over in his wheelchair and he spilled onto the train tracks and got onto his feet and he wasn't even embarrassed!! so i chased him and threw my cans of campbells soup at his head . he died of bleedng head wound. It was good.

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  11. The sociopath I know doesn't engage in altruistic punishment. He has a very hard time understanding it, and is often surprised when a bunch of people want to gang up on him over "something small."

    Basically, they hate him because he's a cheater. When they FINALLY get something to nail him with, they really go after him.

    I'm a malignant narcissist. I live for altruistic punishment. Basically, if I suffer a narcissistic wound (this could be you breaking a rule I have to follow, correcting me or just ignoring me), I feel the tremendous need to retaliate. I feel like I can't look at myself in the mirror unless I pay the offense back tenfold. When I retaliate, I feel great about myself and how clever I am for doing it in a cunning, ruthless and hopefully devastating fashion.

    If you are the sort to engage in altruistic punishment, you might still be a psychopath (e.g. malignant narcissist). But you aren't the cold, logical, calculating sort of sociopath (callous/unemotional) that m.e. is.

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  12. Can you please explain how a malignant narcissist is a psychopath, please?

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  13. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  14. I think in many ways I am a sociopath. Once, after a spammer contacted me through my Craig's List posting for guitar lessons-an attempt to get me into some "work from home" marketing scheme-I met him and a female co-worker at a small pub. I showed them a printout of my CL posting and asked, "Which one of you is the one that wants guitar lessons?" They tried to "explain" to me that they were just contacting small business owners via CL to offer them another strategy to make extra money and I pointed to the printout.

    I'd highlighted, "It's Not Okay To Contact This Poster With Services or Other Commercial Interests", explained to them that Rules Are Rules, and that they now EACH owed me my $65 fee for a month of lessons because any response to my CL posting is supposed to be just that, about guitar lessons. "The only other thing you are allowed to contact me for is bass guitar lessons" I advised.

    I then got up, turned the OPEN sign to CLOSED and latched the door, advising the staff that I was confronting a scam artist who was NOT free to go.

    The spammers paid me $130-65 each-to leave unharmed.

    A few months later, at the same pub, the server recognized me and said, "I'm going to have to ask you to leave."

    "Why" I "innocently" ventured"

    "Because you extorted money from two patrons. I asked them if they wanted us to call the Police, but they just wanted to leave"

    "You have me mistaken for somebody else", I lied, and returned to my drink.

    When the Police arrived, I asked them if they had security footage of "the guy" I "reminded" the server of. They said they didn't and I said, "Well, if they have me 'mistaken' for 'somebody else', I fail to see how it's my problem".

    The sever plead her case to the manager and the cops, but the manager said that she should have acted on the incident while the security tape was fresh-they purge every uneventful 30-day period-and called the cops regardless of the victims' protests.

    The server had to keep bringing me beers all night, whispering, "F-you" every time I smiled my Sh**-eating smile, saying "thank you". She even returned the tip I'd included on my debit card tab saying, "I don't need you for a customer, I have the business card of the persons you extorted and I got their voicemail when I called. I'm going to have them come down here when they get a chance and tell my manager the truth. Then we'll have you trespassed."

    Well, I had one more time to go in there without being under Trespass Notification and she had been terminated.

    Maybe people should learn to mind their own business and maybe people should learn how to comply with Craig's List's disclaimer regarding contacting sellers about something besides what they're selling.

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