ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

心理科学进展 ›› 2024, Vol. 32 ›› Issue (1): 151-161.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2024.00151

• 研究前沿 • 上一篇    下一篇


郭禹辰, 刘艳彬, 程远()   

  1. 浙大宁波理工学院商学院, 宁波 315100
  • 收稿日期:2023-04-18 出版日期:2024-01-15 发布日期:2023-10-25
  • 通讯作者: 程远
  • 基金资助:

Deterrence or signal? The function of third-party intervention

GUO Yuchen, LIU Yanbin, CHENG Yuan()   

  1. School of Business, NingboTech University, Ningbo 315100, China
  • Received:2023-04-18 Online:2024-01-15 Published:2023-10-25
  • Contact: CHENG Yuan


第三方干预是维持和发展社会规范的关键力量, 对整个人类群体具有进化意义。补偿和惩罚是第三方干预的两种主要形式, 二者均是维护社会规范的重要力量, 具有恢复得失平衡以及促进规范遵从的积极作用。研究者广泛认可威慑效应是第三方惩罚促进规范遵从的主要作用机制, 然而也有许多研究结果与该假说相悖。除威慑作用外, 第三方干预行为作为高代价信号, 也具有澄清社会规范、改变人们规范知觉的作用, 这暗示着信号效应可能也是第三方干预促进规范遵从的重要作用机制。探究第三方惩罚促进规范遵从的边界条件、检验第三方补偿等非破坏性措施在维护社会规范方面的有效性是未来研究的重要方向。

关键词: 第三方干预, 第三方惩罚, 第三方补偿, 社会规范, 威慑效应, 信号效应


Third-party intervention is fundamental to shaping and sustaining social norms and plays an important role in the evolution of human communities. Compensation and punishment are two principal methods of third-party intervention which refer to third parties paying the price themselves, either to punish the offenders who caused the harm or to compensate the victims. Third parties can intervene in various ways. Actions such as verbal criticism, gossip, social isolation and physical or financial punishment of the offender are third-party punishment, whereas psychology and financial assistance, and provision of information are third-party compensation.

Third-party intervention plays a central role in enforcing social norms and has two functions. First, it reinforces social norms by restoring the balance of gains and losses and returning the situation to what it “ought” to be under social norm conventions. This function is primarily related to individuals’ retributive motives, which are concerned with ensuring that offenders suffer and innocents are compensated. Furthermore, third-party intervention reinforces social norms by motivating society members to adhere to them and inhibit norm-breaking behaviors. This function is primarily related to consequentialist motives of individuals, which are concerned with deterring future transgressions. Although many studies have affirmed the significant role of third-party interventions in promoting norm compliance, some debate remains. First, some studies have found that third-party punishment does not always promote normative compliance, particularly when it lacks persistence or legitimacy. Second, some researchers suggest that only third-party punishment is effective in promoting normative compliance, as third-party compensation does not reduce the adaptability of violations, and therefore does not deter violations. In contrast, others have contended that third-party compensation contributes significantly to the promotion of normative compliance. To elaborate on the conflicting findings regarding the impact of third-party interventions on normative compliance, it is necessary to explore the internal mechanisms.

According to deterrence and social learning theories, the deterrent effect is a critical mechanism of third-party punishment for inhibiting offending behavior because it serves as a warning to offenders and other members of society that the current behavior is unacceptable and will result in punishment. As people fear expected punishment, they refrain from committing the behavior. However, the deterrent effect may not be the sole mechanism through which third-party interventions exert influence, as many studies have discovered evidence that challenges the deterrence theory. In addition, this mechanism does not clarify the impact of third-party compensation. We suggest that normative signaling effects may constitute another crucial mechanism of action. The theory of social norm perception suggests that the attitudes and behaviors of other group members constitute a crucial source of information for individuals to perceive social norms. Both third-party punishment and compensation serve as explicit signals against current norm-breaking behavior and clarify social values and norms. After observing or experiencing third-party interventions, individuals may perceive the opposition of interveners to the violation, which implies descriptive social norms (i.e., others are unlikely to engage in such behavior), as well as the implicit commitment of interveners to normative compliance, which implies injunctive social norms (i.e., others believe such behavior is unacceptable). This enables individuals to adjust their perceptions of social norms and adapt their behavior accordingly. Therefore, signaling social norms is an important but undervalued mechanism for third-party intervention in reinforcing social norms.

Research on third-party interventions has been productive. However, several issues require further exploration. First, it lacks a clear understanding of the function of third-party compensation and rewards in maintaining social norms. Second, the boundary conditions moderating the impact of third-party interventions on normative compliance remain unclear. For example, contextual factors and the costs of intervention behavior may shape their effectiveness in delivering normative signals. Furthermore, additional exploration is required to determine the sustainability of the effects of third-party intervention.

Key words: third-party intervention, third-party punishment, third-party compensation, social norms, deterrence effect, signaling effect