Indirect reciprocity is a major mechanism in the maintenance of cooperation among unrelated individuals. Indirect reciprocity leads to conditional cooperation according to social norms that discriminate the good (those who deserve to be rewarded with help) and the bad (those who should be punished by refusal of help). Despite intensive research, however, there is no definitive consensus on what social norms best promote cooperation through indirect reciprocity, and it remains unclear even how those who refuse to help the bad should be assessed. Here, we propose a new simple norm called "Staying" that prescribes abstaining from assessment. Under the Staying norm, the image of the person who makes the decision to give help stays the same as in the last assessment if the person on the receiving end has a bad image. In this case, the choice about whether or not to give help to the potential receiver does not affect the image of the potential giver. We analyze the Staying norm in terms of evolutionary game theory and demonstrate that Staying is most effective in establishing cooperation compared to the prevailing social norms, which rely on constant monitoring and unconditional assessment. The application of Staying suggests that the strict application of moral judgment is limited.
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