ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2020, Vol. 52 ›› Issue (12): 1436-1451.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2020.01436

• Reports of Empirical Studies • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Warmth and competence: Impact of third-party punishment on punishers’ reputation

CHEN Sijing(), XU Yechao   

  1. School of Economics and Management, Zhejiang University of Science and Technology, Hangzhou, 310023, China
  • Received:2020-03-02 Published:2020-12-25 Online:2020-10-27
  • Contact: CHEN Sijing
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China(71701185);Soft Science Project of Zhejiang Province(2020c35020)


Third-party punishment (TPP) not only provides a theoretical explanation to the extensive cooperation among genetically unrelated individuals but also raises a second-order free-riding problem. To solve this challenge, some researchers have proposed the reputational benefits of TPP as a potential explanation. That is, given the positive reputation derived from the punishment, the probability that the punisher would be helped in the future is enhanced. However, a growing body of literature has suggested that punishers’ reputation (PR) is not necessarily positive. Three reasons underlying the contradictory findings regarding PR may exist in the existing literature. Previous research a) views reputation as a uni-dimensional variable that is simply negative or positive, b) fails to take into account punishment motives, and c) only considers financial punishment and overlooks the existence of other forms of punishment.
A series of experiments were conducted to answer the main research questions raised in the current study: a) Does TPP have different effects on the two dimensions of PR (experiment 1)? b) Does the attribution of punishment motives (APM) significantly affect PR (experiment 2)? c) Do financial and social punishment diverge on the effects on PR (experiments 2 and 3)? All these experiments used the dictator game as the experimental paradigm, in which the dictator received an initial endowment and decided to what extent she/he wanted to split this endowment with the recipient, and the observer (financially or socially) punished the dictator for an offer she/he deemed unfair. In experiments 1 and 2, every participant played each role four times in a random order. In experiment 3, the participants just observed the game. After being presented with the performance of their partners (experiments 1 and 2) or the actors (experiment 3), the participants were asked to rate their reputation on a seven-point Likert scale consisting of six items and attribute punishment motives on a seven-point Likert scale with self-focused or group-focused anchors.
The results of experiment 1 showed that TPP generally reduced participants’ evaluation of PR in the warmth dimension and improved their evaluation in the competence dimension. Moreover, the punishment deemed group-focused could further improve the positive impact of TPP on competence while ameliorating its negative impact on warmth. The results of experiment 2 revealed that participants relied to a large extent on the cooperation level of punishers to determine whether their punishments were group-focused or self-focused, thus affecting their evaluation of PR. Moreover, with the option of social punishment available, financial punishment significantly reduced the evaluation of PR in terms of warmth regardless of their punishment motives, but the evaluation in terms of competence was quite different. In the absence of social punishment, financial punishment improved the evaluation of PR. Otherwise, financial punishment reduced its evaluation. This finding was partially replicated in experiment 3, which further demonstrated by examining the interaction between APM and punishment forms that the APM moderated the effects of the two types of punishment on PR. When deemed self-focused, the financial punishment reduced participants’ evaluation of PR in the warmth dimension significantly more than the social punishment. When viewed as group-focused, financial punishment enhanced participants’ evaluation of PR in the competence dimension significantly less than social punishment.
In conclusion, this study found evidence that, when considering the impact of TPP on PR, considering the motives underlying punishment and viewing reputation as a multi-dimensional construct is necessary, implying that the reputational benefits of punishing cannot fully explain the selective advantages of TPP and that other factors must have contributed to the selection and diffusion of TPP in evolution.

Key words: third-party punishment, social norm, punishment motivation, reputation, financial punishment, social punishment