Author ORCID Identifier

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Eyal Aharoni

Second Advisor

Sarah Brosnan

Third Advisor

Heather Offutt

Fourth Advisor

Dominic Parrott


Contrary to rational economic theories, it is widely established that people often punish at great costs to themselves even if they were not the one slighted. Decades of research have assumed that such behavior is motivated by prosocial motivations such as defending the victim or adhering to the fairness norm. However, this research has neglected to consider another viable option – that punishers are motivated by competitive or antisocial motives, such as a tolerance for harm to others. When antisocial motivations are conflated with prosocial ones, differences in intentions for the same behavior remain hidden. In a series of three experiments, I leverage economic games and assess psychopathic personality traits to identify antisocial motivations underlying punishment. In Study 1, participants played economic games, wherein they were receivers or observers of fair (e.g., 50:50) or unfair (e.g., 80:20) offers. Costly punishment was measured by their tendency to reject offers (and thereby forgo any personal gains) in the second-party context or spending points to punish the proposer in the third-party context. In Study 2, participants were given the option to compensate a victim of unfairness in addition to punishment. I hypothesized and found that costly punishment was predicted, not only by altruistic motivations, but also by antisocial and opportunistic motivations to harm others. The tendency to punish others who do not deserve it (e.g., punishing fair distributors) was observed in individuals with elevated meanness traits and was accentuated when participants also experienced anger in response to the offer. Moreover, meanness was associated with a lower likelihood of compensating victims of unfair offers. Individuals who valued fairness were less likely to engage in antisocial costly punishment. In Study 3, I tested and found that experimentally manipulating instructions to use an emotion regulation strategy (e.g., using reappraisal to think of the proposer in a positive light) was effective in reducing antisocial costly punishment, even after accounting for psychopathic subtraits of meanness/callousness. This investigation advances scholarship by highlighting crucial differences between other-regarding and self-regarding preferences in costly punishment and has practical implications for managing punitive behavior in social settings with real stakes.


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