Democracy matters: a psychological perspective on the beneficial impact of democratic punishment systems in social dilemmas
The implementation of punishment has proven a prominent solution to prevent the breakdown of cooperation in social dilemma situations. In fact, numerous studies show that punishment possibilities are effective in maintaining cooperative behavior. However, punishment is often not efficient in terms (a) of monetary benefits and in light of the fact (b) that punishment of cooperators (i.e., antisocial punishment) can occur. Still, recent research revealed that individuals vote for the implementation of such punishment systems. We address this contradiction by proposing that the benefits of democratic punishment systems in particular cannot be solely captured by monetary outcomes. Instead, the implementation of democratic punishment systems may enhance the psychological benefits of justice perceptions, satisfaction, and trust. Using iterated public goods games, the findings of the present study reveal not only higher cooperation levels and total payoffs in two different democratic punishment systems compared to other systems, but also higher justice perception, satisfaction, and trust. Furthermore, participants indicated the highest willingness to continue interactions in democratic punishment systems. Moreover, satisfaction, not monetary outcomes, was the best predictor of participants’ willingness to stay in a system. Therefore, we argue that the efficiency of democratic punishment systems cannot be measured solely in monetary outcomes but that psychological benefits must be considered.