The Fine Line between Interrogation and Retribution

Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Forthcoming

6 Pages Posted: 28 Aug 2008 Last revised: 1 Oct 2008

See all articles by Kevin M. Carlsmith

Kevin M. Carlsmith

Colgate University - Psychology Department

Avani Mehta Sood

NYU School of Law

Date Written: October 1, 2008


The use of harsh interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects is typically justified on utilitarian grounds. The present research suggests, however, that those who support such techniques are fuelled by retributive motives. An experimental study conducted with a broad national sample of U.S. residents found that the desire for harsh interrogation is largely isomorphic with the desire to punish, and that both effects are mediated by the perceived moral status of the target, but not the perceived effectiveness of the interrogation. Results are discussed with regard to retributive justice and the national policy on interrogation and torture.

Keywords: Retribution, Utility, Interrogation, Torture, Punishment motives, Retributive justice

Suggested Citation

Carlsmith, Kevin M. and Sood, Avani, The Fine Line between Interrogation and Retribution (October 1, 2008). Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Kevin M. Carlsmith (Contact Author)

Colgate University - Psychology Department ( email )

13 Oak Drive
Hamilton, NY 13346
United States


Avani Sood

NYU School of Law ( email )

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