Law and Order

Kevin Lewis

November 16, 2009

Unobserved punishment supports cooperation

Drew Fudenberg & Parag Pathak
Journal of Public Economics, forthcoming

Costly punishment can facilitate cooperation in public-goods games, as human subjects will incur costs to punish non-cooperators even in settings where it is unlikely that they will face the same opponents again. Understanding when and why it occurs is important both for the design of economic institutions and for modeling the evolution of cooperation. Our experiment shows that subjects will engage in costly punishment even when it will not be observed until the end of the session, which supports the view that agents enjoy punishment. Moreover, players continue to cooperate when punishment is unobserved, perhaps because they (correctly) anticipate that shirkers will be punished: Fear of punishment can be as effective at promoting contributions as punishment itself.


Policing Terrorism in Israel

Arie Perliger, Badi Hasisi & Ami Pedahzur
Criminal Justice and Behavior, December 2009, Pages 1279-1304

This article challenges the approach that supports the efficiency of the war model in combating terrorism and shows, by drawing on empirical support, the advantages of using the criminal justice model not only because of its response to the legal-moral issue but also because of its effectiveness. A conceptualization of the term policing terrorism is presented through a general model that defines the role of the police in combating terrorism within a democracy. By analyzing how this model is implemented in Israel, the article illustrates that police forces are preferable to military ones in three main realms: counterterrorism intelligence, thwarting of terrorist attacks, and restoration of civilian infrastructure after a terrorist attack.


Blame Contagion: The Automatic Transmission of Self-Serving Attributions

Nathanael Fast & Larissa Tiedens
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, forthcoming

When people blame others for their mistakes, they learn less and perform worse. This problem is magnified when blame becomes embedded in the shared culture of groups and organizations. Yet, little is known about whether - and, if so, how - the propensity to blame spreads from one person to another. Four experiments addressed this issue, demonstrating that blame is socially contagious: Observing an individual make a blame attribution increased the likelihood that people would make subsequent blame attributions for their own, unrelated, failures (Experiments 1, 2, and 4). Results also indicated that this "blame contagion" is due to the transmission of goals. Blame exposure led to the inference and adoption of a self-image protection goal (Experiment 3), and blame contagion was eliminated when observers had the opportunity to alleviate this self-image protection goal via self-affirmation (Experiment 4). Implications for research on causal attributions, social contagion, and cultural transmission are discussed.


Attention Moderates the Fearlessness of Psychopathic Offenders

Joseph Newman, John Curtin, Jeremy Bertsch & Arielle Baskin-Sommers
Biological Psychiatry, forthoming

Background: Psychopathic behavior is generally attributed to a fundamental, amygdala-mediated deficit in fearlessness that undermines social conformity. An alternative view is that psychopathy involves an attention-related deficit that undermines the processing of peripheral information, including fear stimuli.

Methods: We evaluated these alternative hypotheses by measuring fear-potentiated startle (FPS) in a group of 125 prisoners under experimental conditions that 1) focused attention directly on fear-relevant information or 2) established an alternative attentional focus. Psychopathy was assessed using Hare's Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R).

Results: Psychopathic individuals displayed normal FPS under threat-focused conditions but manifested a significant deficit in FPS under alternative-focus conditions. Moreover, these findings were essentially unchanged when analyses employed the interpersonal/affective factor of the PCL-R instead of PCL-R total scores.

Conclusions: The results provide unprecedented evidence that higher-order cognitive processes moderate the fear deficits of psychopathic individuals. These findings suggest that psychopaths' diminished reactivity to fear stimuli, and emotion-related cues more generally, reflect idiosyncrasies in attention that limit their processing of peripheral information. Although psychopathic individuals are commonly described as cold-blooded predators who are unmotivated to change, the attentional dysfunction identified in this study supports an alternative interpretation of their chronic disinhibition and insensitive interpersonal style.


On the Psychology of the Belief in a Just World: Exploring Experiential and Rationalistic Paths to Victim Blaming

Kees van den Bos & Marjolein Maas
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, December 2009, Pages 1567-1578

This article examines why people may blame innocent victims of robbery or sexual assault. We propose that in experiential mind-sets associative links are formed between the victim and the negative event. As the creation of such links is independent of explicit beliefs, people in experiential mind-sets produce negative reactions to the victim independent of their just-world beliefs. Rationalistic mind-sets, however, instigate propositional and consistency-based reasoning. For people who strongly endorse just-world beliefs (such as people who have strong predispositions to believe that the world is just or whose just-world beliefs have been threatened strongly), learning about an innocent victim creates a logically inconsistent system of beliefs. This inconsistency can be resolved by blaming the victim. For people who only weakly endorse just-world beliefs, there is no inconsistency in the first place and therefore no need to blame the victim. Two experiments support this line of reasoning.


The Prisoners' (Plea Bargain) Dilemma

Oren Bar-Gill & Omri Ben-Shahar
Journal of Legal Analysis, Summer 2009, Pages 737-773

How can a prosecutor, who has only limited resources, credibly threaten so many defendants with costly and risky trials and extract plea bargains involving harsh sentences? Had defendants refused to settle, many of them would not have been charged or would have escaped with lenient sanctions. But such collective stonewalling requires coordination among defendants, which is difficult if not impossible to attain. Moreover, the prosecutor, by strategically timing and targeting her plea offers, can create conflicts of interest among defendants, frustrating any attempt at coordination. The substantial bargaining power of the resource-constrained prosecutor is therefore the product of the collective action problem that plagues defendants. This conclusion suggests that, despite the common view to the contrary, the institution of plea bargains may not improve the well-being of defendants. Absent the plea bargain option, many defendants would not have been charged in the first place. Thus, we can no longer count on the fact that plea bargains are entered voluntarily to argue that they are desirable for all parties involved.


Immigration, Crime, and Incarceration in Early Twentieth-Century America

Carolyn Moehling & Anne Morrison Piehl
Demography, November 2009, Pages 739-763

The major government commissions on immigration and crime in the early twentieth century relied on evidence that suffered from aggregation bias and the absence of accurate population data, which led them to present partial and sometimes misleading views of the immigrant-native criminality comparison. With improved data and methods, we find that in 1904, prison commitment rates for more serious crimes were quite similar by nativity for all ages except ages 18 and 19, for which the commitment rate for immigrants was higher than for the native-born. By 1930, immigrants were less likely than natives to be committed to prisons at all ages 20 and older, but this advantage disappears when one looks at commitments for violent offenses. The time series pattern reflects a growing gap between natives and immigrants at older ages, one that was driven by sharp increases in the commitment rates of the native-born, while commitment rates for the foreign-born were remarkably stable.


More Time, Less Crime? Estimating the Incapacitative Effect of Sentence Enhancements

Emily Owens
Journal of Law and Economics, August 2009, Pages 551-579

Sentence enhancements may reduce crime both by deterring potential criminals and by incapacitating previous offenders, removing these possible recidivists from society for longer periods. I estimate the incapacitative effect of longer sentences by exploiting a 2001 change in Maryland's sentencing guidelines that reduced the sentences of 23‐, 24‐, and 25‐year ‐olds with juvenile delinquent records by a mean of 222 days. I find that, during this sentence disenhancement, offenders were, on average, arrested for 2.8 criminal acts and were involved in 1.4-1.6 serious crimes per person during the period when they would have otherwise been incarcerated. Although my findings are significantly lower than previous estimates of incapacitation, I find that, on the margin, the social benefit of the crimes averted by incapacitation is slightly higher than the marginal cost to the state of imposing a 1‐year sentence enhancement.


We Blame Innocent Victims More Than I Do: Self-Construal Level Moderates Responses to Just-World Threats

Jan-Willem van Prooijen & Kees van den Bos
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, November 2009, Pages 1528-1539

This study investigated the impact of self-construal levels on people's tendency to blame innocent victims for the victims' fates. The authors hypothesized that when the belief in a just world is threatened, social self-construal is associated with more victim blaming than individual self-construal is. In Experiments 1 and 2, participants were primed with either the individual self (with the word I) or the social self (with the word we). Results indeed showed that when threats to just-world beliefs were high, social self-activation produced more victim blaming than individual self-activation did. This effect was not found when just-world threats were low. Extending on these findings, Experiment 3 revealed that, following a just-world threat, an independent self-construal measure was negatively related to victim blaming, and an interdependent self-construal measure was positively related to victim blaming. It is concluded that self-construal levels are important to understanding the justice motive.


The biological bases of unfairness: Neuroimaging evidence for the distinctiveness of procedural and distributive justice

James Dulebohn, Donald Conlon, Issidoros Sarinopoulos, Robert Davison & Gerry McNamara
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, November 2009, Pages 140-151

A classic debate in the organizational justice literature concerns the question of whether procedural justice and distributive justice are independent constructs. We investigate this question by using fMRI methods to examine brain activation patterns associated with procedural and distributive unfairness. We observed a clear dissociation of activation between these two forms of justice, and only a minimal amount of shared activation in the hypothesized regions. Specifically, unfair procedures evoked greater activation in parts of the brain related to social cognition, such as the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) and the superior temporal sulcus (STS), whereas unfair outcomes evoked greater activation in more emotional areas of the brain, such as the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), anterior insula (AI) and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). We interpret the findings as supporting the notion that the two forms of justice reflect distinct constructs, while recognizing that, as forms of justice, they are closely related nomologically.


Culture, Cognition, and Consent: Who Perceives What, and Why, in 'Acquaintance Rape' Cases

Dan Kahan
University of Pennsylvania Law Review, forthcoming

This paper uses the theory of cultural cognition to examine the debate over rape-law reform. Cultural cognition refers to the tendency of individuals to conform their perceptions of legally consequential facts to their defining group commitments. Results of an original experimental study (N = 1,500) confirmed the impact of cultural cognition on perceptions of fact in a controversial acquaintance-rape case. The major finding was that a hierarchical worldview, as opposed to an egalitarian one, inclined individuals to perceive that the defendant reasonably understood the complainant as consenting to sex despite her repeated verbal objections. The effect of hierarchy in inclining subjects to favor acquittal was greatest among women; this finding was consistent with the hypothesis that hierarchical women have a distinctive interest in stigmatizing rape complainants whose behavior deviates from hierarchical gender norms. The study also found that cultural predispositions have a much larger impact on outcome judgments than do legal definitions, variations in which had either no or a small impact on the likelihood subjects would support or oppose conviction. The paper links date-rape reform to a class of controversies in law that reflect symbolic status competition between opposing cultural groups, and addresses the normative implications of this conclusion.


Dire and Sequestered Meetings: The Work of Game Wardens

Craig Forsyth & York Forsyth
American Journal of Criminal Justice, December 2009, Pages 213-223

Game wardens are law enforcement agents responsible for enforcing fish and wildlife laws. Based on data from extensive interviews with game wardens the authors describe dangerous situations faced by wardens in their work. Comparisons with the dangers experienced by other types of police officers are made. Temporal, spatial, and situational factors shape the uniqueness of the law enforcement experiences of the game warden. Specific factors found which increase dangerousness were: isolation of area, being outnumbered, being alone, mistakes like not wearing hunter's orange, and not being aware an offender is under the influence. In addition, most if not all individuals encountered are armed and skilled in the use of deadly weapons.


Manifestations of Power and Control: Training as the Catalyst for Scandal at the United States Air Force Academy

Jamie Callahan
Violence Against Women, October 2009, Pages 1149-1168

This article explores the role of training practices at the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) in perpetuating power and control issues and the potential consequences of those practices. This article also includes an overview of the training practices at the USAFA, issues of power and control manifested in the training process, and gendered reactions to the loss of personal control experienced during the initial socialization training. The author argues that cadet responses to control deprivation may have resulted in the (alleged) sexual assaults by male cadets and the eating disorders manifested by female cadets, both of which ultimately represent violence against women. The article concludes with implications for research and practice, including a call for recognizing the strategic role of training in forming organizational culture.


Distinguishing Judges: An Empirical Ranking of Judicial Quality in the U.S. Court of Appeals

Robert Anderson
Pepperdine University Working Paper, July 2009

This article presents an empirical quality ranking of 383 federal appellate judges who served on the United States Court of Appeals between 1960 and 2008. Like existing judge evaluation studies, this article uses citations among judicial opinions to assess judicial quality. Unlike existing citation studies, which treat positive and negative citations alike, this article ranks judges according to the mix of positive and negative citations to the opinions, rather than the number of citations to those opinions. By distinguishing between positive and negative citations, this approach avoids ranking judges higher for citations even when the judges are being cited negatively. The additional information provided by this data produces strikingly different results from those found in the existing count-based studies of judicial performance. When the mix of positive and negative citations is taken into account, many of the most highly cited judges from the citation count studies are only average and some of the average judges in the citation count studies emerge as the most positively cited. This new approach is applied to evaluate the recent nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, revealing aspects of judicial quality that are not captured by existing techniques.


Judicial checks on corruption in the United States

Adriana Cordis
Economics of Governance, November 2009, Pages 375-401

Judicial oversight provides an important check on executive and legislative power. Two components of judicial oversight have been identified in the literature: judicial independence and constitutional review. Recent research using country-level data indicates that the effectiveness of constitutional review is largely determined by the rigidity of the constitution. In this paper, I use state-level data to test whether judicial independence and constitutional rigidity are related to a specific type of abuse of power by government officials: corruption in office. Specifically, I fit negative binomial regressions in which the dependent variable is the number of officials convicted for corrupt acts and the independent variables are (i) measures of judicial independence, such as judges' remuneration, method of appointment, and term length, along with various controls or (ii) measures of constitutional rigidity, such as legislative majorities required to propose constitutional amendments and provisions for constitutional conventions or constitutional initiatives, along with various controls. I find that, in general, states with higher levels of judicial independence and more rigid constitutions have lower levels of corruption per capita than states with the opposite characteristics.


The Decision to Award Punitive Damages: An Empirical Study

Theodore Eisenberg, Michael Heise, Nicole Waters & Martin Wells
Cornell Working Paper, June 2009

Empirical studies have consistently shown that punitive damages are rarely awarded, with rates of about three to five percent of plaintiff trial wins. Using the 2005 data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics Civil Justice Survey, this article shows that knowing in which cases plaintiffs sought punitive damages transforms the picture of punitive damages. Not accounting for whether punitive damages were sought obscures the meaningful punitive damages rate, the rate of awards in cases in which they were sought, by a factor of nearly 10, and obfuscates a more explicable pattern of awards than has been reported. Punitive damages were surprisingly infrequently sought, with requests found in about 10% of tried cases that plaintiffs won. Punitive damages were awarded in about 30% these trials. Awards were most frequent in cases of intentional tort, with a punitive award rate of over 60%. Greater harm corresponded to a greater probability of an award: the size of the compensatory award was significantly associated with whether punitive damages were awarded, with a rate of approximately 60% for cases with compensatory awards of $1 million or more. Regression models correctly classify about 70% or more of the punitive award request outcomes, Judge-jury differences in the rate of awards exist, with judges awarding punitive damages at a higher rate in personal injury cases and juries awarding them at a higher rate in nonpersonal injury cases. These puzzling adjudicator differences may be a consequence of the routing of different cases to judges and juries.


Costly punishment does not always increase cooperation

Jia-Jia Wu, Bo-Yu Zhang, Zhen-Xing Zhou, Qiao-Qiao He, Xiu-Deng Zheng, Ross Cressman & Yi Tao
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 13 October 2009, Pages 17448-17451

In a pairwise interaction, an individual who uses costly punishment must pay a cost in order that the opponent incurs a cost. It has been argued that individuals will behave more cooperatively if they know that their opponent has the option of using costly punishment. We examined this hypothesis by conducting two repeated two-player Prisoner's Dilemma experiments, that differed in their payoffs associated to cooperation, with university students from Beijing as participants. In these experiments, the level of cooperation either stayed the same or actually decreased when compared with the control experiments in which costly punishment was not an option. We argue that this result is likely due to differences in cultural attitudes to cooperation and punishment based on similar experiments with university students from Boston that found cooperation did increase with costly punishment.


Sex differences in implicit punishment sensitivity: Evidence from two cognitive paradigms

Sara Moeller & Michael Robinson
Personality and Individual Differences, forthcoming

Men, relative to women, are more likely to engage in disinhibited behaviors - such as excessive alcohol consumption or violent crimes - that implicate lower levels of punishment sensitivity. The goal of the present two studies (N = 207) was to implicitly model punishment sensitivity in terms consistent with a process-based view of this construct. Study 1 found that women slowed down following error feedback in a cognitive task to a greater extent than men. Study 2 found that women, but not men, altered their predictions following error feedback in a purported precognition task. Results are discussed in relation to theories of sex differences, punishment sensitivity processes, and proneness to disinhibited behaviors.


On Punishment and Well-being

Jordi Brandts & María Fernanda Rivas
Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, December 2009, Pages 823-834

The existence of punishment opportunities has been shown to cause efficiency in some public goods experiments to increase considerably. In this paper we ask whether punishment also has a downside in terms of process dissatisfaction. We conduct an experiment to study the conjecture that an environment with strong punishment possibilities may lead to higher material payoffs but lower subjective well-being, in comparison with weaker punishment or no punishment possibilities at all. The more general motivation for our study stems from the notion that people's subjective well-being may be affected by the institutional environment they find themselves in. Our findings show that harsher punishment possibilities lead to significantly higher well-being, controlling for earnings and other relevant variables. These results complement the evidence on the neural basis of altruistic punishment reported in de Quervain et al. (2004).


from the


A weekly newsletter with free essays from past issues of National Affairs and The Public Interest that shed light on the week's pressing issues.


to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.