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Animals, in particular humans, frequently punish other individuals who behave negatively or uncooperatively towards them. In animals, this usually serves to protect the personal interests of the individual concerned, and its kin. However, humans also punish altruistically, in which the act of punishing is personally costly. The propensity to do so has been proposed to reflect the cultural acquisition of norms of behaviour, which incorporates the desire to uphold equity and fairness, and promotes cooperation. Here, we review the proximate neurobiological basis of punishment, considering the motivational processes that underlie punishing actions.