Evidence for third-party mediation but not punishment in Mentawai justice

Manvir Singh et Zachary Garfield


Researchers argue that third parties help sustain human cooperation, yet how they contribute remains unclear, especially in small-scale, politically decentralized societies. Studying justice among Mentawai horticulturalists in Indonesia, we examined evidence for punishment and mediation by third parties. Across a sample of 444 transgressions, we find no evidence of direct third-party punishment. Most victims and aggrieved parties demanded payment, and if a transgressor faced punishment, this was never imposed by third parties. We find little evidence of indirect sanctions by third parties. Nearly 20% of transgressions were followed by no payment, and as predicted by dyadic models of sanctions, payments were less likely when transgressions were among related individuals. Approximately 75% of non-governmental mediators called were third parties, especially shamans and elders, and mediators were called more as cooperation was threatened. Our findings suggest that, among the Mentawai, institutionalized penalties function more to restore dyadic cooperation than to enforce norms.

Publié dans

Nature Human Behaviour, vol. 6, n° 571, juillet 2022, p. 930–940