Retributive justice theory has suggested two processes by which punishment is psychologically satisfying to victims of injustice: leveling the power imbalance caused by the transgression and revalidating social consensus over the importance of the rules, norms, and values violated by the offense. The current investigation proposes a third symbolic function that has not yet been identified as a psychological consequence of punishment: confirmation of the victim's membership status in the group (i.e., intragroup standing or respect). Three studies identified perceptions of intragroup membership status as following from third-party punishment, partly explaining the effect of punishment on a victim's group identification. Study 1 showed that, following the experience of an injustice, punishment prevented perceived membership status threats from resulting in victim disidentification. Study 2 showed that third-party desires to punish increased subsequent identification by symbolically communicating the ingroup's regard for the victim, even when the offender did not actually suffer the effects of third-party sanctions. Finally, Study 3 showed that punishment only implied membership status when the act of punishment was instigated by an ingroup authority and was thus identity-relevant. Taken together, these studies offer the first examination of membership status as a relevant concern underlying retributive justice.
- Intragroup status
- Retributive justice