Results of a new study showed that men tend to punish more than women, having the aim of obtaining a higher rank, and punishment by males decreases payoffs for both sexes.
Furthermore, men are willing to punish people who have done nothing wrong, except cooperate to the fullest extent possible.
Men tend to be harsher to move up the ranks
A laboratory experiment designed to investigate the role of relative performance-based payoffs on cooperation in the context of punishment. Subjects play a repeated public goods game with high-powered punishment (50:1) and additional payoffs based on relative performance. Contributions to the public good are nearly maximal.
Punishment levels are substantial, higher than the same game without relative rank payoffs, and sufficiently high that total payoffs are negative. The group would make much more money in the same setting without punishment.
This whole investigation was meant to contribute to studying the role of altruism in human cooperation.
Results suggest that status-seeking men are willing to impose enormous costs on others and destroy their group to move up in the hierarchy.
According to this study, men may punish more than women for two reasons.
The first one is that punishment is often viewed as similar to physical conflict. If we think about it, men are better known to favor physical punishment of unfair behavior. Men are also less cooperative and less generous compared with their female counterparts.
The second reason is that status affects cooperative behavior and women may feel differently about status and rank. If so, punishment may be a tool used by certain individuals to advance in rank. One of the examples noted was that explicit rank-based incentives caused men to punish at roughly twice the rate of women.
The current study could actually be connected to the recent #metoo movement, and it shows that outside the laboratory, high-powered punishment and rank-based reward may be the norm.
Punishment in the workplace is extremely common and takes many forms
Mixed-gender situations with the ability to punish others occur daily in the workplace. These types of punishments can range from reputational harm to more direct financial impacts such as being terminated from your position. Studies of gender and costly cooperation are relatively rare, and existing studies reveal no clear relationship between gender and certain cooperative behaviors.
Dr. Burnham conducted a public goods game with 96 undergraduate students from Chapman University. Four experimental sessions with 24 subjects each had equal numbers of men and women.
During this game, subjects had to secretly choose how many of their private tokens to place into a public pot, with each participant keeping the tokens they did not contribute. The tokens in this pot were multiplied by 1.6 and divided equally among four players in a group.
All decisions were made through independent computers, while subjects were instructed not to look at anyone’s screen or speak to one another. Participants in each session played this game with and without rank-based payoffs.