O'Gorman, R. O., Henrich, J., & Van Vugt, M.(2009). Constraining free-riding in public goods games: Designated solitary punishers can sustain human cooperation.
Proceedings of Royal Society-B, 276, 323-329.
Much of human cooperation remains an evolutionary riddle. Unlike other animals, people frequently cooperate with non-relatives in large groups. Evolutionary models of large-scale cooperation require not just incentives for cooperation, but also a credible disincentive for free-riding. Various theoretical solutions have been proposed and experimentally explored, including reputation monitoring and diffuse punishment. Here, we empirically examine an alternative theoretical proposal: Responsibility for punishment can be borne by one specific individual. This experiment shows that allowing a single individual to punish increases cooperation to the same level as allowing each group member to punish and results in greater group profits. These results suggest a potential key function of leadership in human groups and provide further evidence supporting that humans will readily and knowingly behave altruistically.