Retributive justice

Michael Wenzel, Tyler Okimoto

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

    32 Citations (Scopus)


    In this contribution, we review research on the psychology of retributive justice, the subjectively appropriate punishment of individuals or groups who have committed a transgression. We discuss possible evolutionary origins of retributive justice, move on to more reflective philosophies of punishment prevalent in societal discourse, and discuss psychological underpinnings of individuals’ adoption of particular philosophies or goals of punishment. We then focus on how exactly punishment as a response to wrongdoing (i.e., retribution) may satisfy a psychological justice motive. We highlight the communicative function of retribution and its ability to address symbolic threats or concerns that derive from a wrongdoing. Finally, we will argue that while retribution may be sought to alleviate various concerns and to repair justice, its capacity to do so as well as individuals’ choices of punishment for these purposes can only be adequately understood if non-punitive alternatives are considered. We call for an integrated understanding of justice responses that recognizes the fluid and multifaceted nature of justice repair.

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationHandbook of Social Justice Theory and Research
    EditorsClaudia Sabbagh, Manfred Schmitt
    Number of pages20
    ISBN (Electronic)9781493932160
    ISBN (Print)9781493932153
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2016


    • Just desert
    • Punishment
    • Punishment philosophies
    • Retributive justice
    • Symbolic meaning of punishment


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