Third-party punishment following observed social rejection

Emotion. 2020 Jun;20(4):713-720. doi: 10.1037/emo0000607. Epub 2019 Apr 22.


Humans routinely punish others for violating social norms. This behavior is referred to as third-party punishment. Much of the research on this topic has been done in the context of group cooperation and unjust economic interactions. However, little is known about punishment in response to other types of more personal transgressions. In the present study, we sought to determine whether adults would punish an individual after viewing them undeservingly reject a stranger. We experimentally demonstrate that after observing an individual socially reject an unknown victim, individuals will engage in third-party punishment. Individuals who reported feeling upset with the rejecter were most likely to punish, while feeling sorry for the victim was not predictive of punishment behavior. These findings highlight the motivational role of empathic anger in punishing social norm transgressors. Notably, individuals who reported having been bullied in their own pasts were the most likely to punish the rejecter. These results demonstrate how a history of being bullied may make one more attuned to the social rejection of others and in turn may make one more likely to take retributive action on behalf of another. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Group Processes
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Punishment / psychology*
  • Rejection, Psychology*
  • Young Adult