Why Do We Punish? Victim Mate Value Sways Criminal Punishment in Mock Trials

Posted: 16 May 2009

See all articles by Eyal Aharoni

Eyal Aharoni

University of California, Santa Barbara - Department of Psychology

Date Written: May 21, 2009

Abstract

It is a thorn in the side of the law that judges and jurors are influenced by extra-legal factors, such as the attractiveness of the defendant or victim. In order to promote equal treatment, it may be helpful to understand why these biases occur and in what ways. Drawing on evolutionary considerations, the present study predicted that victims bearing cues of high theorized mate value - specifically high facial symmetry and sexual availability - will evoke more offender punishment by mock judges than do victims with lower mate value. This prediction was confirmed. We present evidence that this effect was not due to a general tendency to empathize with victims but instead was driven by a tendency to value the victim along socially-relevant dimensions. This finding suggests an adaptive basis for implicit punitive bias. A deeper understanding of such biases could help us to develop new approaches to combat them in courts of law.

Suggested Citation

Aharoni, Eyal, Why Do We Punish? Victim Mate Value Sways Criminal Punishment in Mock Trials (May 21, 2009). Gruter Institute Squaw Valley Conference 2009: Law, Behavior & the Brain. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1403350

Eyal Aharoni (Contact Author)

University of California, Santa Barbara - Department of Psychology ( email )

Santa Barbara, CA 93106
United States

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