Researchers argue that third parties help sustain human cooperation, yet how they contribute remains unclear, especially in small-scale, politically decentralized societies. Studying justice among Mentawai horticulturalists in Indonesia, we examined evidence for punishment and mediation by third parties. Across a sample of 444 transgressions, we find no evidence of direct third-party punishment. Most victims and aggrieved parties demanded payment, and if a transgressor faced punishment, this was never imposed by third parties. We find little evidence of indirect sanctions by third parties. Nearly 20% of transgressions were followed by no payment, and as predicted by dyadic models of sanctions, payments were less likely when transgressions were among related individuals. Approximately 75% of non-governmental mediators called were third parties, especially shamans and elders, and mediators were called more as cooperation was threatened. Our findings suggest that, among the Mentawai, institutionalized penalties function more to restore dyadic cooperation than to enforce norms.
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The figure shows the estimated log odds (x-axis) for predicting whether a mediator was called (model 3) (n = 199 cases). ‘Same clan status’ is a binary variable capturing whether disputants are in the same clan (1) or different clans (0). Points and error bars are posterior means with 95% credible intervals. The shaded areas and distributions respectively represent 50%, 80%, and 95% of the posterior distributions.
The figure shows the estimated severities of transgressions (x-axis) for which local mediators were called and for which governmental officials were called to mediate (n = 208 cases). Points and error bars are posterior means with 95% credible intervals. The shaded areas and distributions respectively represent 50%, 80%, and 95% of the posterior distributions.
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Singh, M., Garfield, Z.H. Evidence for third-party mediation but not punishment in Mentawai justice. Nat Hum Behav 6, 930–940 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-022-01341-7
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