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On the Assignment of Punishment: The Impact of General-Societal Threat and the Moderating Role of Severity, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin


This article reports experiments assessing how general threats to social order and severity of a crime can influence punitiveness. Results consistently showed that when participants feel that the social order is threatened, they behave more punitively toward a crime perpetrator, but only when severity associated with a crime was relatively moderate. Evidence is presented to suggest that people can correct, at least to a degree, for the "biasing" influence of these inductions. Finally, threats to social order appear to increase punitiveness by arousing a retributive desire to see individuals pay for what they have done, as opposed to a purely utilitarian desire to deter future wrongdoing. The authors suggest that individuals sometimes act as intuitive prosecutors when ascribing punishment to an individual transgressor based on their perception of general societal control efficacy.




Derek D. Rucker, Mark Polifroni, Philip Tetlock, Amanda Scott

Date Published



Rucker, D. Derek, Mark Polifroni, Philip Tetlock, and Amanda Scott. 2004. On the Assignment of Punishment: The Impact of General-Societal Threat and the Moderating Role of Severity. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 30(6): 673-684.


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