We Punish Out of a Desire for Fairness, Not Revenge

We Punish Out of a Desire for Fairness, Not Revenge

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Punishment helps discourage the dishonest from destroying the fabric of cooperative human societies. But that’s not what you actually think about when you feel the urge to punish a rule-breaker. Scientists have long debated what motivates humans’ deep-seated desire for retaliation, which we’ll carry out even at great personal cost.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests our motivations for punishing rule-breakers aren’t really based on revenge, or the desire to inflict as much harm on them as they have inflicted on others. We just hate to see someone get ahead using unfair means. Cheating, specifically, only bothers us when it works.

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