Exposure to superfluous information reduces cooperation and increases antisocial punishment in reputation-based interactions

Miguel dos Santos, Victoria A. Braithwaite, Claus Wedekind

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Human cooperation is often based on reputation gained from previous interactions with third parties. Such reputation can be built on generous or punitive actions, and both, one's own reputation and the reputation of others have been shown to influence decision making in experimental games that control for confounding variables. Here we test how reputation-based cooperation and punishment react to a disruption of the cognitive processing in different kinds of helping games with observers. Saying a few superfluous words before each interaction was used to possibly interfere with working memory. In a first set of experiments, where reputation could only be based on generosity, the disturbance reduced the frequency of cooperation and lowered mean final payoffs. In a second set of experiments where reputation could only be based on punishment, disturbance increased the frequency of antisocial punishment (i.e., of punishing those who helped) and reduced the frequency of punishing defectors. Our findings suggest that working memory can easily be constraining in reputation-based interactions within experimental games, even if these games are based on a few simple rules with a visual display that provides all the information the subjects need to play the strategies predicted from current theory. Our findings also highlight a weakness of experimental games, namely that they can be very sensitive to environmental variation and that quantitative conclusions about antisocial punishment or other behavioral strategies can easily be misleading.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number41
JournalFrontiers in Ecology and Evolution
Issue numberAUG
StatePublished - Aug 1 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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