School of Anthropology
Pro-sociality and Justice: An Economic and Ethnographic Study in Israel
David Tracer’s Fulbright research tested the hypothesis that pro-sociality in human groups is maintained by “costly punishment.” According to the hypothesis, pro-social norms can be maintained when violators of norms are sufficiently sanctioned for non-compliance--to the extent that it becomes more costly for these individuals to violate the norm than to adhere to it.
Using quantitative and qualitative methods derived from anthropology and experimental economics, Tracer tested this hypothesis by examining the willingness of individuals in Israel to undertake costly punishment and evaluated the effects of punishment on cooperative behavior. His study also examined whether norm enforcers display a greater preference for retribution against perpetrators or compensation of victims in remediating norm violations; and whether the cultural milieu plays a role in modulating individual preferences for ‘retributive’ versus ‘restorative’ solutions to social transgressions. In order to do so, a Third-Party Punishment Game was conducted with two different treatments: retributive and restorative, followed by interviews with each participant.
Tracer’s research was unique in blending theory and methods from anthropology, economics and criminal justice to answer questions that are of concern to all three disciplines. It was the first study ever conducted that employed experimental economic methods to examine human preferences for retributive versus restorative justice cross-culturally. It also advanced and tested a novel theory that explains the widespread occurrence of pro-social behavior in human species.
“My Fulbright experience played a transformative role in my life with respect to personal and professional growth. I have made friends and established collegial relationships with both the Israeli Jewish and Arab community and the Bedouin communities, something that I will cherish for a lifetime.”
- David Tracer
PhD Associate Professor, School of Anthropology