Children punish third parties to satisfy both consequentialist and retributive motives

Subjects

Abstract

Adults punish moral transgressions to satisfy both retributive motives (such as wanting antisocial others to receive their ‘just deserts’) and consequentialist motives (such as teaching transgressors that their behaviour is inappropriate). Here, we investigated whether retributive and consequentialist motives for punishment are present in children approximately between the ages of five and seven. In two preregistered studies (N = 251), children were given the opportunity to punish a transgressor at a cost to themselves. Punishment either exclusively satisfied retributive motives by only inflicting harm on the transgressor, or additionally satisfied consequentialist motives by teaching the transgressor a lesson. We found that children punished when doing so satisfied only retributive motives, and punished considerably more when doing so also satisfied consequentialist motives. Together, these findings provide evidence for the presence of both retributive and consequentialist motives in young children.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Communicative versus non-communicative punishment.
Fig. 2: Visualizations of the communicative, non-communicative, and baseline control conditions.
Fig. 3: Percentages of participants who punished depending on condition in Study 1 (N = 113).
Fig. 4: Percentages of participants who punished depending on condition in Study 2 (N = 138).
Fig. 5: Percentages of participants who predicted that the transgressor will not re-offend.

Data availability

All data related to these studies are publicly available on OSF at https://osf.io/ht7j6/.

Code availability

Most analyses were conducted in SPSS and using freely available packages in the R environment for statistical computing. All syntax and code are available at https://osf.io/ht7j6/.

References

  1. 1.

    Fehr, E. & Fischbacher, U. The nature of human altruism. Nature 425, 785–791 (2003).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Henrich, J. et al. Markets, religion, community size, and the evolution of fairness and punishment. Science 327, 1480–1484 (2010).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Vidmar, N. & Miller, D. T. Social psychological processes underlying attitudes toward legal punishment. Law Soc. Rev. 14, 565–602 (1980).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Güth, W., Schmittberger, R. & Schwarze, B. An experimental analysis of ultimatum bargaining. J. Econ. Behav. Organ. 3, 367–388 (1982).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Fehr, E. & Fischbacher, U. Third-party punishment and social norms. Evol. Hum. Behav. 25, 63–87 (2004).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Fehr, E. & Gächter, S. Altruistic punishment in humans. Nature 415, 137–140 (2002).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Boyd, R., Gintis, H., Bowles, S. & Richerson, P. J. The evolution of altruistic punishment. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 100, 3531–3535 (2003).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Balliet, D., Mulder, L. B. & Van Lange, P. A. Reward, punishment, and cooperation: a meta-analysis. Psychol. Bull. 137, 594–615 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Mathew, S. & Boyd, R. Punishment sustains large-scale cooperation in prestate warfare. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 108, 11375–11380 (2011).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Kant, I. in Why Punish? How Much? A Reader on Punishment (ed. Tonry, M. H.) 31–36 (Oxford Univ. Press, 2011).

  11. 11.

    Bentham, J. in What Is Justice? Classic and Contemporary Readings (eds Soloman, R. C. & Murphy, M. C.) 215–220 (Oxford Univ. Press, 2000).

  12. 12.

    Funk, F., McGeer, V. & Gollwitzer, M. Get the message: punishment is satisfying if the transgressor responds to its communicative intent. Pers. Soc. Psychol. Bull. 40, 986–997 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Baron, J. in Psychological Perspectives on Justice: Theory and Applications (eds. Mellers, B. & Baron, J.) 109–137 (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993).

  14. 14.

    Carlsmith, K. M., Darley, J. M. & Robinson, P. H. Why do we punish? Deterrence and just deserts as motives for punishment. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 83, 284–299 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Crockett, M. J., Özdemir, Y. & Fehr, E. The value of vengeance and the demand for deterrence. J. Exp. Psychol. Gen. 143, 2279–2286 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Goodwin, G. P. & Gromet, D. M. Punishment. WIREs Cogn. Sci. 5, 561–572 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Keller, L. B., Oswald, M. E., Stucki, I. & Gollwitzer, M. A closer look at an eye for an eye: laypersons’ punishment decisions are primarily driven by retributive motives. Soc. Justice Res. 23, 99–116 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Nadelhoffer, T., Heshmati, S., Kaplan, D. & Nichols, S. Folk retributivism and the communication confound. Econ. Philos. 29, 235–261 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Ouss, A. & Peysakhovich. When punishment doesn’t pay. J. Law Econ. 58, 625–655 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Hamlin, J. K., Wynn, K., Bloom, P. & Mahajan, N. How infants and toddlers react to antisocial others. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 108, 19931–19936 (2011).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Vaish, A., Missana, M. & Tomasello, M. Three‐year‐old children intervene in third‐party moral transgressions. Br. J. Dev. Psychol. 29, 124–130 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Heyman, G. D., Loke, I. C. & Lee, K. Children spontaneously police adults’ transgressions. J. Exp. Child Psychol. 150, 155–164 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Yucel, M. & Vaish, A. Young children tattle to enforce moral norms. Soc. Dev. 27, 924–936 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    House, B. R. et al. Social norms and cultural diversity in the development of third-party punishment. Proc. R. Soc. B 287, 20192794 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Jordan, J. J., McAuliffe, K. & Warneken, F. Development of in-group favoritism in children’s third-party punishment of selfishness. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 111, 12710–12715 (2014).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    McAuliffe, K., Jordan, J. J. & Warneken, F. Costly third-party punishment in young children. Cognition 134, 1–10 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Yang, F., Choi, Y. J., Misch, A., Yang, X. & Dunham, Y. In defense of the commons: young children negatively evaluate and sanction free riders. Psychol. Sci. 29, 1598–1611 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Yudkin, D. A., Van Bavel, J. J. & Rhodes, M. Young children police in-group members at personal cost. J. Exp. Psychol. Gen. 149, 182–191 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Riedl, K., Jensen, K., Call, J. & Tomasello, M. Restorative justice in children. Curr. Biol. 25, 1731–1735 (2015).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Kanakogi, Y. et al. Preverbal infants affirm third-party interventions that protect victims from aggressors. Nat. Hum. Behav. 1, 0037 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Jordan, J. J., Hoffman, M., Bloom, P. & Rand, D. G. Third-party punishment as a costly signal of trustworthiness. Nature 530, 473–476 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Twardawski, M., Tang, K. T. & Hilbig, B. E. Is it all about retribution? The flexibility of punishment goals. Soc. Justice Res. 33, 195–218 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Bommarito, N. Virtuous and vicious anger. J. Ethics Soc. Philos. 11, 1–27 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Flanagan, O. The Geography of Morals: Varieties of Moral Possibility (Oxford Univ. Press, 2016).

  35. 35.

    Leboeuf, C. in The Moral Psychology of Anger (eds Cherry, M. & Flanagan, O.) 15–30 (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2017).

  36. 36.

    Nussbaum, M. C. Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, and Justice (Oxford Univ. Press, 2016).

  37. 37.

    Silvermint, D. Rage and virtuous resistance. J. Polit. Philos. 25, 461–486 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Tessman, L. Burdened Virtues: Virtue Ethics for Liberatory Struggles (Oxford Univ. Press, 2005).

  39. 39.

    Srinivasan, A. The aptness of anger. J. Polit. Philos. 26, 123–144 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    FeldmanHall, O., Sokol-Hessner, P., Van Bavel, J. J. & Phelps, E. A. Fairness violations elicit greater punishment on behalf of another than for oneself. Nat. Commun. 5, 5306 (2014).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Heffner, J. & FeldmanHall, O. Why we don’t always punish: preferences for non-punitive responses to moral violations. Sci. Rep. 9, 13219 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Miller, D. T. & McCann, C. D. Children’s reactions to the perpetrators and victims of injustices. Child Dev. 50, 861–868 (1979).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank the Crockett Lab and the Mind and Development Lab for their valuable feedback in the design and methodology of the present studies. We also thank A. Buck, A. Gollwitzer, S. Hollander, C. Johnson, E. Mahaffey, S. Minnillo, A. Morra, I. Munday, A. Sacchi, C. Seita and C. Welsh for assistance with the data collection. Finally, we thank the generous and wonderful parents, children and schools who helped us with this project.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

J.M., D.A.Y. and M.J.C. developed the study concept and study design. J.M. collected the data and performed the analyses. J.M., D.A.Y. and M.J.C. drafted the manuscript and provided critical revisions. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript for submission.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Julia Marshall or Molly J. Crockett.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Primary handling editor: Charlotte Payne.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–16, Supplementary Tables 1–6, Supplementary Methods and Supplementary Results.

Reporting Summary

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Marshall, J., Yudkin, D.A. & Crockett, M.J. Children punish third parties to satisfy both consequentialist and retributive motives. Nat Hum Behav (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-00975-9

Download citation

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing