Living together in communities requires mutual cooperation. To achieve this, we punish others when they are uncooperative. Until now, it has been unclear as to when we develop the impulse to penalise this behaviour—and whether this is an exclusively human feature. Scientists at Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences and the MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI EVA) in Leipzig discovered that even six-year-old children feel the need to reprimand antisocial behaviour, and that they are willing to take risks and make an effort to be present when the ‘guilty’ one is punished.

When we see somebody suffering, we normally feel uneasy and want to help. However, this feeling can be reversed. When we know someone behaved in an antisocial manner, we can remain unsympathetic even though we know they are hurt. It is known from previous studies that we perceive the perpetrator’s pain as a just punishment and a tool to penalise misbehaviour. Moreover, we feel a sense of spite when we witness the disciplinary measure.

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