Sanctioning in the Wild: Rational Calculus and Retributive Instincts in Gourmet Cuisine


Academy of Management Journal

June 2015, vol. 58, n°3, pp.906-931

Departments: Strategy & Business Policy

Keywords: Cooperation, Sanctioning, Reciprocity, Retribution, Field experiment, Knowledge transfer

Why do we sanction norm violations? Despite near universal agreement on the role of sanctions for maintaining norms of cooperation, scholars hotly dispute whether individuals sanction based on a rational calculus or because of strong retributive instincts. In this paper we report on a mixed-method field study examining sanctioning behavior. Our goal is to extend theories of sanctioning by evaluating the conditions under which individuals are more likely to administer a sanction in response to a norm violation. To guide the development of our hypotheses, we engage in a qualitative examination of sanctioning decisions in the context of gourmet cuisine. We then test our predictions in a field experiment involving more than 500 gourmet chefs in Italy. Our results suggest that individuals follow retributive instincts, but they also engage in cost/benefit calculations. Indeed, we find that the two logics of sanctioning jointly influence participation in social exchange. Recognizing their own tendency to sanction at a cost, individuals avoid circumstances that could trigger the need for costly sanctions