Morality in the Law: The Psychological Foundations of Citizens’ Desires to Punish Transgressions

Posted: 4 Jun 2010

Date Written: December 2009

Abstract

Evidence from a number of research methods converges to suggest that when a person registers a transgression against self or others, the person experiences an intuitively produced, emotionally tinged reaction of moral outrage. The reaction is driven by the just deserts–based retributive reactions of the person to the transgression rather than, for instance, considerations of the deterrent force of the punishment. In experimental games arranged so that trust and fairness transgressions occur, participants punish transgressors and experience rewarding brain states while doing so, and they punish even if they were not themselves the target of the violation. What, if any, implications does this have for the punishment component of societal systems of justice? Would it be possible to construct sentencing practices that, to some extent, incorporated citizens’ sense of just punishments? What would be gained by doing so? And what would be lost?

Suggested Citation

Darley, John M., Morality in the Law: The Psychological Foundations of Citizens’ Desires to Punish Transgressions (December 2009). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1600001 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1146/annurev.lawsocsci.4.110707.172335

John M. Darley (Contact Author)

Princeton University ( email )

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Princeton, NJ 08544
United States
609-258-3000 (Phone)

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