Human beings get a lot more done through cooperation, and researchers have used game theory to identify the circumstances that induce us to work with our fellow humans. One of the key motivating features is our willingness to punish. People will forgo profits in order to attempt to exact a penalty on someone who fails to cooperate, even if the individual being punished remains blissfully unaware.
This is so thoroughly engrained that pretty much every large group of people has formalized cooperation by setting up a tax system and creating a government that ensures that everyone works together. One of the roles that government has taken on is what’s termed “secondary punishment”—not only does it punish various forms of non-cooperation, it punishes people for not getting behind the whole idea of cooperation, in that it goes after anyone who doesn’t pay taxes.
The question of how this form of secondary punishment arises motivated some researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology to recruit undergrads from the University of Kiel to participate in a financial game that tested their willingness to cooperate. What they found was that people responded very differently depending on if they were given the chance to vote on cooperation or if they were allowed to change groups to find one with the level of cooperation they liked.