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New Publication on the Punishment Reactions to Powerful Suspects

Published: 08-04-2022

According to the “intuitive retributivism hypothesis” people have the tendency to punish immoral-doers with the aim to make them pay for what they did (retributive punishment) rather than to deter them from offending in the future (utilitarian punishment) or enable them to integrate into society (restorative punishment). In this study, Kyriaki Fousiani and Jan-Willem Van Prooijen find support for the intuitive retributivism hypothesis and further show that power of a suspect of immoral-doing prompts an observer to assign stronger utilitarian rather than retributive or restorative punishments. These results reveal that observers’ motives for punishing high power suspects are grounded on a perception of the powerful as corrupt individuals who are susceptible to break the rules and thus deserve to be constrained rather than punished with the default pattern of retribution.

The article can be found here.



This study aimed to replicate the intuitive retributivism hypothesis, according to which people’s punitive sentiments are predominantly driven by retributive concerns. Contrary to prior research that focuses on how people punish offenders, this study investigated how people punish individuals suspected of immoralities. Moreover, we manipulated a suspect’s power level (high/low/undefined) and stated contrasting hypotheses (the “power corrupts” approach vs. the “power leniency” approach) regarding the impact of power on punishment motives. Finally, we investigated the mediating role of recidivism and guilt likelihood in these effects. The results replicated the intuitive retributivism hypothesis and revealed the robustness of this effect. Moreover, in line with the “power corrupts” approach, we found that the role of utilitarian (but not retributive or restorative) motives is stronger in the punishment of powerful suspects as opposed to powerless ones. Unexpectedly, neither guilt likelihood nor recidivism of a suspect mediated the effects of power on punishment motives.