On Punishment and Well-being

Abstract

The existence of punishment opportunities has been shown to cause efficiency in public goods experiments to increase considerably. In this paper we ask whether punishment also has a downside in terms of process dissatisfaction. We conduct an experiment to study the conjecture that an environment with stronger punishment possibilities leads to higher material but lower subjective well-being. The more general motivation for our study stems from the notion that peopleís subjective well-being may be affected by the institutional environment they find themselves in. Our findings show that harsher punishment possibilities lead to signficantly higher well-being, controlling for earnings and other relevant variables. People derive independent satisfaction from interacting under the protection of strong punishment possibilities. These results complement the evidence on the neural basis of altruistic punishment reported in de Quervain et al. (2004).