The Scope-Severity Paradox: Why Doing More Harm is Judged to Be Less Harmful

Social Psychological and Personality Science, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 97-102, 2011

7 Pages Posted: 24 Jul 2011 Last revised: 6 Jan 2012

Date Written: July 23, 2011

Abstract

Punishment should be sensitive to the severity of the crime. Yet in three studies the authors found that increasing the number of people victimized by a crime actually decreases the perceived severity of that crime and leads people to recommend less punishment for crimes that victimize more people. The authors further demonstrate the process behind the scope-severity paradox - the victim identifiability effect - and test a strategy for overcoming this bias. Although Studies 1 and 2 document this phenomenon in the lab, in Study 3 the authors used archival data to demonstrate that the scope-severity paradox is a robust, real-world effect. They collected archival data of actual jury verdicts spanning a 10-year period and found that juries required defendants to pay higher punitive damages when their negligent behavior harmed fewer people.

Keywords: ethics morality, judgment, decision making, deviance, psychology and law

Suggested Citation

Nordgren, Loran and McDonnell, Mary-Hunter, The Scope-Severity Paradox: Why Doing More Harm is Judged to Be Less Harmful (July 23, 2011). Social Psychological and Personality Science, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 97-102, 2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1893727

Loran Nordgren

Northwestern University - Department of Management & Organizations ( email )

Evanston, IL
United States

Mary-Hunter McDonnell (Contact Author)

The Wharton School - The University of Pennsylvania ( email )

3641 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6365
United States

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