In our podcast about spite, called "What Do Medieval Nuns and Bo Jackson Have in Common?,” we talked to Benedikt Herrmann about his research on anti-social behavior. Sociologists Kyle Irwin and Christine Horne are also investigating why spiteful behavior occurs. In a recent experiment, they found that social norms drove players to punish too-cooperative members of the lab game. From Ars Technica:
Irwin and Horne found that strong social norms encouraged punishment of the cooperative player: the more similar the first four pre-programmed donations were, the higher the punishments tended to be for the overly generous deviant. When there is a clear “right way” to behave, the researchers suggest, people respond more strongly to behaviors that don’t fit the norm.
However, the strength of social norms didn’t affect the punishments of the stingy deviant. Players tended to punish this individual equally under both conditions. The researchers suggest that no matter how high or low conformity is among group members, people always see stinginess as a punishable offense.