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What Motivates Direct and Indirect Punishment?

What Motivates Direct and Indirect Punishment?

Extending the “Intuitive Retributivism” Hypothesis

Catherine Molho, Mathias Twardawski, Lei Fan

Published on Zeitschrift für Psychologie



Punishment represents a key mechanism to deter norm violations and is motivated by retribution and/or general deterrence. Retribution-motivated punishment is tailored to offense severity, whereas deterrence-motivated punishment is tailored to different factors, including punishment observability. This study aimed to replicate and extend prior work by testing how offense severity and punishment observability motivate direct, confrontational punishment versus indirect, covert punishment. Participants (N = 308) read vignettes describing offenses with varying severity (high vs. low) and punishment observability (high vs. low). We then assessed their punishment tendencies – overall, direct, and indirect – and their endorsement of retribution and deterrence motives. Findings supported a “strong version” of intuitive retributivism. Manipulating retribution-relevant information consistently influenced punishment: participants reported stronger overall, direct, and indirect punishment tendencies when severity was high (vs. low). Self-reported deterrence (but not retribution) motives positively related to overall, direct, and indirect punishment tendencies. However, manipulating deterrence-relevant information did not influence punishment.