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Why Do We Punish? Deterrence and Just Deserts as Motives for Punishment

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 83, pp. 284-299, 2002

15 Pages Posted: 30 Mar 2005  

Kevin M. Carlsmith

Colgate University - Psychology Department

John M. Darley

Princeton University

Paul H. Robinson

University of Pennsylvania Law School

Abstract

One popular justification for punishment is the just deserts rationale: A person deserves punishment proportionate to the moral wrong committed. A competing justification is the deterrence rationale: Punishing an offender reduces the frequency and likelihood of future offenses. The authors examined the motivation underlying laypeople's use of punishment for prototypical wrongs. Study 1 (N = 336) revealed high sensitivity to factors uniquely associated with the just deserts perspective (e.g., offense seriousness, moral trespass) and insensitivity to factors associated with deterrence (e.g., likelihood of detection, offense frequency). Study 2 (N = 329) confirmed the proposed model through structural equation modeling (SEM). Study 3 (N = 351) revealed that despite strongly stated preferences for deterrence theory, individual sentencing decisions seemed driven exclusively by just deserts concerns.

Keywords: Punishment, desert, deterrence

JEL Classification: K14

Suggested Citation

Carlsmith, Kevin M. and Darley, John M. and Robinson, Paul H., Why Do We Punish? Deterrence and Just Deserts as Motives for Punishment. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 83, pp. 284-299, 2002. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=678981

Kevin M. Carlsmith

Colgate University - Psychology Department ( email )

13 Oak Drive
Hamilton, NY 13346
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.colgate.edu/DesktopDefault1.aspx?tabid=684&pgID=3400&vID=3&dID=0&fID=4213

John M. Darley

Princeton University ( email )

1-N-17 Green Hall
Princeton, NJ 08544
United States
609-258-3000 (Phone)

Paul H. Robinson (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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