Right and Wrong

Kevin Lewis

December 22, 2010

Punish in Public

Erte Xiao & Daniel House
Journal of Public Economics, forthcoming

We report data from public goods games showing that privately-implemented punishment reduces cooperation in relation to a baseline treatment without punishment. When that same incentive is implemented publicly, however, cooperation is sustained at significantly higher rates than in either the baseline or private punishment treatments. Our design ensures that this increased cooperation is not attributable to shame, differences in information or signaling. Rather, our evidence is that the ability to observe the punishment of low-contributors can reverse punishment's detrimental effects. This result has important efficiency implications for the design of mechanisms intended to deter misconduct.


Compassion for one reduces punishment for another

Paul Condon & David DeSteno
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, forthcoming

The ability of compassion felt toward one person to reduce punishment directed at another was examined. The use of a staged interaction in which one individual cheats to earn higher compensation than others resulted in heightened third-party punishment being directed at the cheater. However, among participants who were induced to feel compassion toward a separate individual, punishment of the cheater disappeared even though the cheater clearly intended to cheat and showed no remorse for so doing. Moreover, additional analyses revealed that the reduction in punishment was directly mediated by the amount of compassion participants experienced toward the separate individual.


Racist biases in legal decisions are reduced by a justice focus

Joris Lammers & Diederik Stapel
European Journal of Social Psychology, forthcoming

Six studies investigate whether the effect of racist biases on judges' legal decisions on minority defendants is reduced by a "justice focus." Given that people associate legal decision-making with the need to do so in a colorblind manner, a justice focus blocks the effect of racist biases on legal decisions. Experiment 1 shows that explicit instructions to adopt a justice goal decrease biases. Experiment 2 shows that a primed justice focus also decreases biases. Experiments 3a and 3b show the role of pre-existing legal expertise, which makes people more susceptible a justice goal. Experiments 4a and 4b apply these findings by studying the role of a justice focus among professional courtroom judges. Together, these results demonstrate the importance of a justice focus in preventing racist biases in legal decision-making. Importantly, a justice focus is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the colorblind administration of justice.


An Experimental Test of the Deterrence Hypothesis

Hannah Schildberg-Hörisch & Christina Strassmair
Journal of Law, Economics, & Organization, forthcoming

Crime has to be punished, but does punishment reduce crime? We conduct a neutrally framed laboratory experiment to test the deterrence hypothesis, namely that crime (weakly) decreases in deterrent incentives, that is, severity and probability of punishment. In our experiment, subjects can steal from another subject. Deterrent incentives vary across and within sessions. Our across-subjects analysis rejects the deterrence hypothesis: except for high levels of incentives, subjects steal on average more the stronger the incentives. We observe two types of subjects: selfish subjects who act according to the deterrence hypothesis and fair-minded subjects for whom small incentives backfire.


Drug Arrests and Injection Drug Deterrence

Samuel Friedman et al.
American Journal of Public Health, forthcoming

Objectives: We tested the hypothesis that higher rates of previous hard drug-related arrests predict lower rates of injection drug use.

Methods: We analyzed drug-related arrest data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reporting Program for 93 large US metropolitan statistical areas in 1992 to 2002 to predict previously published annual estimates of the number of injection drug users (IDUs) per 10000 population.

Results: In linear mixed-effects regression, hard drug-related arrest rates were positively associated (parameter=+1.59; SE=0.57) with the population rate of IDUs in 1992 and were not associated with change in the IDU rate over time (parameter=-0.15; SE=0.39).

Conclusions: Deterrence-based approaches to reducing drug use seem not to reduce IDU prevalence. Alternative approaches such as harm reduction, which prevents HIV transmission and increases referrals to treatment, may be a better foundation for policy.


I Spy with My Little Eye: Jurors' Detection of Internal Validity Threats in Expert Evidence

Bradley McAuliff & Tejah Duckworth
Law and Human Behavior, December 2010, Pages 489-500

This experiment examined whether jury-eligible community members (N = 223) were able to detect internally invalid psychological science presented at trial. Participants read a simulated child sexual abuse case in which the defense expert described a study he had conducted on witness memory and suggestibility. We varied the study's internal validity (valid, missing control group, confound, and experimenter bias) and publication status (published, unpublished). Expert evidence quality ratings were higher for the valid versus missing control group version only. Publication increased ratings of defendant guilt when the study was missing a control group. Variations in internal validity did not influence perceptions of child victim credibility or police interview quality. Participants' limited detection of internal validity threats underscores the need to examine the effectiveness of traditional legal safeguards against junk science in court and improve the scientific reasoning ability of lay people and legal professionals.


Life and death in the lone star state: Three decades of violence predictions by capital juries

Mark Cunningham, Jon Sorensen, Mark Vigen & S.O. Woods
Behavioral Sciences & the Law, forthcoming

The accuracy of three decades of Texas jury predictions of future violence by capital defendants was tested through retrospective review of the disciplinary records of former death row (FDR) inmates in Texas (N = 111) who had been sentenced to death under this "special issue" and subsequently obtained relief from their death sentences between 1989 and 2008. FDR inmates typically had extended tenures on death row (M = 9.9 years) and post-relief in the general prison population (M = 8.4 years). FDR prevalence of serious assault was low, both on death row (3.6%) and upon entering the prison population (4.5%). None of the assaults resulted in life-threatening injuries to the victims. Violence among the FDR inmates was not disproportionate compared with life-sentenced capital offenders. Consistent with other research, juror expectations of serious prison violence by these offenders had high error (i.e., false positive) rates. The confidence of legislators and courts in the violence prediction capabilities of capital jurors is misplaced.


False Allegations of Sexual Assualt: An Analysis of Ten Years of Reported Cases

David Lisak, Lori Gardinier, Sarah Nicksa & Ashley Cote
Violence Against Women, December 2010, Pages 1318-1334

One of the most controversial disputes affecting the discourse related to violence against women is the dispute about the frequency of false allegations of sexual assault. In an effort to add clarity to the discourse, published research on false allegations is critiqued, and the results of a new study described. All cases (N = 136) of sexual assault reported to a major Northeastern university over a 10-year period are analyzed to determine the percentage of false allegations. Of the 136 cases of sexual assault reported over the 10-year period, 8 (5.9%) are coded as false allegations. These results, taken in the context of an examination of previous research, indicate that the prevalence of false allegations is between 2% and 10%.


Who's flying the plane: Serotonin levels, aggression and free will

Allan Siegel & John Douard
International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, forthcoming

The present paper addresses the philosophical problem raised by current causal neurochemical models of impulsive violence and aggression: to what extent can we hold violent criminal offenders responsible for their conduct if that conduct is the result of deterministic biochemical processes in the brain. This question is currently receiving a great deal of attention among neuroscientists, legal scholars and philosophers. We examine our current knowledge of neuroscience to assess the possible roles of deterministic factors which induce impulsive aggression, and the extent to which this behavior can be controlled by neural conditioning mechanisms. Neural conditioning mechanisms, we suggest, may underlie what we consider the basis of responsible (though not necessarily moral) behavior: the capacity to give and take reasons. The models we first examine are based in part upon the role played by the neurotransmitter, serotonin, in the regulation of violence and aggression. Collectively, these results would appear to argue in favor of the view that low brain serotonin levels induce impulsive aggression which overrides mechanisms related to rational decision making processes. We next present an account of responsibility as based on the capacity to exercise a certain kind of reason-responsive control over one's conduct. The problem with such accounts of responsibility, however, is that they fail to specify a neurobiological realization of such mechanisms of control. We present a neurobiological, and weakly determinist, framework for understanding how persons can exercise guidance control over their conduct. This framework is based upon classical conditioning of neurons in the prefrontal cortex that allow for a decision making mechanism that provides for prefrontal cortical control of the sites in the brain which express aggressive behavior that include the hypothalamus and midbrain periaqueductal gray. The authors support the view that, in many circumstances, neural conditioning mechanisms provide the basis for the control of human aggression in spite of the presence of brain serotonin levels that might otherwise favor the expression of impulsive aggressive behavior. Indeed if those neural conditioning mechanisms underlie the human capacity to exercise control, they may be the neural realization of reason-responsiveness generally.


Automatic Judgment and Reasoning About Punishment

Margit Oswald & Ingrid Stucki
Social Justice Research, December 2010, Pages 290-307

Several studies provide evidence that judgments on punishment are influenced by variables that are more or less independent of guilt considerations. It is postulated that these so called extralegal variables, such as the victim's reputation or outcome severity that occurs accidentally and without intention by the offender, in particular influence judgments that are made under restricted cognitive capacity (low processing depth). Two studies, using a vignette methodology, explore whether participants are able to correct the biasing influences of extralegal variables if they are motivated to elaborate their judgments under the most optimal conditions (high processing depth). Study 1 investigates the influence of victim's reputation, and Study 2 the combined influence of victim's reputation and accidentally occurring outcome severity under either low or high depth of information processing. Results show that the influence of extralegal variables can be corrected. However, corrections are either limited or excessive, and are sometimes even inappropriate.


The Other Side of Perspective Taking: Transgression Ambiguity and Victims' Revenge Against Their Offender

Tyler Okimoto & Michael Wenzel
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming

The current investigation examined the untested effects of perspective taking on revenge. After taking the perspective of their offender (or not), victims of an experimentally induced injustice were given the opportunity to exact revenge. When the violation was ambiguous, perspective taking resulted in favorable attribution biases and reduced revenge. In contrast, perspective taking increased desires for revenge when the violation was clear. Both effects were apparent only for victims with a high interdependent self-construal, suggesting that they are motivated by the desire to condemn moral threats to one's social self-concept, either by attributing the offender's immoral actions to an external cause (decreased revenge) or taking a stand against the offender's immorality (increased revenge).


When emotionality trumps reason: A study of individual processing style and juror bias

Justin Gunnell & Stephen Ceci
Behavioral Sciences & the Law, November/December 2010, Pages 850-877

"Cognitive Experiential Self Theory" (CEST) postulates that information-processing proceeds through two pathways, a rational one and an experiential one. The former is characterized by an emphasis on analysis, fact, and logical argument, whereas the latter is characterized by emotional and personal experience. We examined whether individuals influenced by the experiential system (E-processors) are more susceptible to extralegal biases (e.g. defendant attractiveness) than those influenced by the rational system (R-processors). Participants reviewed a criminal trial transcript and defendant profile and determined verdict, sentencing, and extralegal susceptibility. Although E-processors and R-processors convicted attractive defendants at similar rates, E-processors were more likely to convict less attractive defendants. Whereas R-processors did not sentence attractive and less attractive defendants differently, E-processors gave more lenient sentences to attractive defendants and harsher sentences to less attractive defendants. E-processors were also more likely to report that extralegal factors would change their verdicts. Further, the degree to which emotionality trumped rationality within an individual, as measured by a novel scoring method, linearly correlated with harsher sentences and extralegal influence. In sum, the results support an "unattractive harshness" effect during guilt determination, an attraction leniency effect during sentencing and increased susceptibility to extralegal factors within E-processors.


The effect of low self-control on perceived police legitimacy

Scott Wolfe
Journal of Criminal Justice, forthcoming

Objective: The process-based model has influenced policing research for a number of years, but the role of individual differences on procedural justice judgments and perceived police legitimacy has received limited attention. The current study fills a void in the literature by examining the effect of low self-control on individuals' procedural justice judgments and perceptions of police legitimacy.

Materials and Methods: The study uses a sample of young adults and estimates a series of OLS regression models to determine the effect of low self-control on the process-based model of policing.

Results: The findings demonstrate that low self-control is associated with unfavorable procedural justice judgments. In turn, procedural justice mediates the effect of low self-control on perceived police legitimacy. Low self-control, however, is also shown to condition the effect of procedural justice on legitimacy. Specifically, the effect of procedural justice on legitimacy becomes weaker with reduced levels of self-control.

Conclusions: These findings suggest that studies should account for self-control in process-based policing research and police policy should consider the impact of individual differences when implementing process-based strategies.


Support for the Death Penalty in Developing Democracies: A Binational Comparative Case Study

Ben Brown, Reed Benedict & Kevin Buckler
International Criminal Justice Review, December 2010, Pages 398-416

To assess support for the death penalty in Mexico and South Korea, surveys were administered to students at institutions of higher education. The majority of respondents in Mexico (52.3%) and South Korea (60.8%) supported the death penalty. Given that the Mexican and South Korean governments have histories of using criminal justice agencies to suppress democratic reform, the high level of support for the death penalty indicates that a history of authoritarian governance may not inculcate widespread opposition to the punishment. Concomitantly, regression analyses of the data indicate that beliefs about the treatment afforded to criminal suspects do not significantly affect support for capital punishment. Contrary to research conducted in the United States, which has consistently shown support for capital punishment is lower among females than among males, regression analyses of the data show that gender has no impact on support for the death penalty; findings that call for a reexamination of the thesis that the gender gap in support for the death penalty in the United States is the result of a patriarchal social structure.


Aberrant neural processing of moral violations in criminal psychopaths

Carla Harenski, Keith Harenski, Matthew Shane & Kent Kiehl
Journal of Abnormal Psychology, November 2010, Pages 863-874

A defining characteristic of psychopathy is the willingness to intentionally commit moral transgressions against others without guilt or remorse. Despite this "moral insensitivity," the behavioral and neural correlates of moral decision-making in psychopathy have not been well studied. To address this issue, the authors used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to record hemodynamic activity in 72 incarcerated male adults, stratified into psychopathic (n = 16) and nonpsychopathic (n = 16) groups based on scores from the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (R. D. Hare, 2003), while they made decisions regarding the severity of moral violations of pictures that did or did not depict moral situations. Consistent with hypotheses, an analysis of brain activity during the evaluation of pictures depicting moral violations in psychopaths versus nonpsychopaths showed atypical activity in several regions involved in moral decision-making. This included reduced moral/nonmoral picture distinctions in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and anterior temporal cortex in psychopaths relative to nonpsychopaths. In a separate analysis, the association between severity of moral violation ratings and brain activity across participants was compared in psychopaths versus nonpsychopaths. Results revealed a positive association between amygdala activity and severity ratings that was greater in nonpsychopaths than psychopaths, and a negative association between posterior temporal activity and severity ratings that was greater in psychopaths than nonpsychopaths. These results reveal potential neural underpinnings of moral insensitivity in psychopathy and are discussed with reference to neurobiological models of morality and psychopathy.


Perceiving Pure Evil: The Influence of Cognitive Load and Prototypical Evilness on Demonizing

Jan-Willem van Prooijen & Evelien van de Veer
Social Justice Research, December 2010, Pages 259-271

The present research sought to investigate the psychological dynamics underlying demonizing, that is, the tendency to see others as personifications of pure evilness. Building on an integrative theoretical framework, it is hypothesized that the extent to which a perpetrator matches prototypical expectations of evilness shapes demonizing responses to offenders particularly when cognitive resources are impaired. In two experiments, participants were asked to memorize either a difficult or an easy telephone number (cognitive load vs. control), and were then asked to evaluate a perpetrator who murdered a young woman (Experiment 1) or who kidnapped a child (Experiment 2). Results revealed that the extent to which the description of the perpetrator was consistent with a prototypical evilness scheme influenced demonizing particularly under conditions of cognitive load. It is concluded that impairment of cognitive resources increases the influence of prototypical evilness on demonizing.

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