Making sense of punishment: Transgressors' interpretation of punishment motives determines the effects of sanctions

Melissa de Vel-Palumbo, Mathias Twardawski, Mario Gollwitzer

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Abstract

Punishment is expected to have an educative, behaviour-controlling effect on the transgressor. Yet, this effect often remains unattained. Here, we test the hypothesis that transgressors' inferences about punisher motives crucially shape transgressors' post-punishment attitudes and behaviour. As such, we give primacy to the social and relational dimensions of punishment in explicating how sanctions affect outcomes. Across four studies using different methodologies (N = 1189), our findings suggest that (a) communicating punishment respectfully increases transgressor perceptions that the punisher is trying to repair the relationship between the transgressor and their group (relationship-oriented motive) and reduces perceptions of harm-oriented and self-serving motives, and that (b) attributing punishment to relationship-oriented (vs. harm/self-oriented, or even victim-oriented) motives increases prosocial attitudes and behaviour. This research consolidates and extends various theoretical perspectives on interactions in justice settings, providing suggestions for how best to deliver sanctions to transgressors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1395-1417
Number of pages23
JournalBritish Journal of Social Psychology
Volume62
Issue number3
Early online date9 Mar 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2023

Keywords

  • attribution
  • motives
  • procedural justice
  • punishment

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