Have you ever wondered whether culture has an impact on cooperation? When somebody drops rubbish in the streets or plays loud music till late night, would this person be more likely to be told off in Boston or in Athens?
In a recent experiment, Herrmann, Thöni, and Gächter (2008) show that different societies punish peer members differently depending on their inherent social norms for cooperation. For example, in Melbourne people often decide to punish the least cooperative individuals whereas in Muscat punishment is directed at anyone regardless of their cooperative efforts. As a consequence, the benefits of punishment on cooperation appear only in those places where antisocial punishment, i.e. sanctioning of people who behave pro-socially, is relatively low.
Notably, among the 16 cities from their global sample none had a Hispanic background. Given the recent events in those societies involving economic crises, unemployment, violence and the loss of social values and identity, I believe that it is important to quantify how punishment is administered in the region in an effort to understand how cooperation could be improved.
Therefore, this project seeks to replicate the experiment mentioned above in Hispanic societies to gain insights into the cultural differences of the region. It started with an experiment run in Aguascalientes, Mexico, and has continued with one in Granada, Spain.
The challenges of conducting research abroad are many, but I believe that particularly in Mexico the fact of not having a dedicated lab was among the greatest. From the recruitment of the participants to the construction of the cubicles and installation of the software on an unstable network of computers that always put the sessions in danger, my experience was rather thrilling.
In the end, thanks to the kind assistance of the Staff at the University of Aguascalientes, the results were even better than expected and 60 subjects took part in the experiment. On the other hand, in Granada the experience was much smoother and the experiment had a total of 48 participants.
Results show that cooperation differs significantly between the two venues. The first ten periods of this experiment were conducted without punishment available and as it can be seen, the trend is non-increasing in both places. However, once punishment is allowed in the next ten periods, only in Granada cooperation does not take off.
Regarding punishment, the adjacent Figure shows that antisocial punishment surprisingly appears more often in Aguascalientes than in Granada.
Indeed, those results combined might illustrate how the relationship between punishment and cooperation is not linear and that there are many cultural norms that take part in the equation. For instance, punishment does not seem to be effective in Spain regardless of its use whereas in Mexico it tends to boost cooperation regardless of the presence of antisocial punishment. Nevertheless, identifying the potential reasons for such behaviour is something I plan to explore in the associated paper I am currently preparing.