Why Do We Punish? Deterrence and Just Deserts as Motives for Punishment
One popular justification for punishment is the just deserts rationale: A person deserves punishment proportionate to the moral wrong committed. A competing justification is the deterrence rationale: Punishing an offender reduces the frequency and likelihood of future offenses. The authors examined the motivation underlying laypeople's use of punishment for prototypical wrongs. Study 1 (N = 336) revealed high sensitivity to factors uniquely associated with the just deserts perspective (e.g., offense seriousness, moral trespass) and insensitivity to factors associated with deterrence (e.g., likelihood of detection, offense frequency). Study 2 (N = 329) confirmed the proposed model through structural equation modeling (SEM). Study 3 (N = 351) revealed that despite strongly stated preferences for deterrence theory, individual sentencing decisions seemed driven exclusively by just deserts concerns.
punishment, desert, deterrence
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
83 J. Personality & Soc. Psychol. 284 (2002)