Why Do We Punish? Victim Mate Value Sways Criminal Punishment in Mock Trials
Posted: 16 May 2009
Date Written: May 21, 2009
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.
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