The conundrum of cooperation has received increasing attention during the last decade. In this quest, the role of altruistic punishment has been identified as a mechanism promoting cooperation. Here we investigate the role of altruistic punishment on the emergence and maintenance of cooperation in structured populations exhibiting connectivity patterns recently identified as key elements of social networks. We do so in the framework of Evolutionary Game Theory, employing the Prisoner’s Dilemma and the Stag-Hunt metaphors to model the conflict between individual and collective interests regarding cooperation. We find that the impact of altruistic punishment strongly depends on the ratio q/p between the cost of punishing a defecting partner (q) and the actual punishment incurred by the partner (p). We show that whenever q/p<1, altruistic punishment turns out to be detrimental for cooperation for a wide range of payoff parameters, when compared to the scenario without punishment. The results imply that while locally, the introduction of peer punishment may seem to reduce the chances of free-riding, realistic population structure may drive the population towards the opposite scenario. Hence, structured populations effectively reduce the expected beneficial contribution of punishment to the emergence of cooperation which, if not carefully dosed, may in fact hinder the chances of widespread cooperation.
Recommended citation: Vukov, Jeromos, Flavio L. Pinheiro, Francisco C. Santos, and Jorge M. Pacheco. "Reward from punishment does not emerge at all costs." PLoS computational biology 9, no. 1 (2013): e1002868.