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Monday, October 14, 2019

Why we don’t always punish: Preferences for non-punitive responses to moral violations

Joseph Heffner & Oriel FeldmanHall
Scientific Reports, volume 9, 
Article number: 13219 (2019) 


While decades of research demonstrate that people punish unfair treatment, recent work illustrates that alternative, non-punitive responses may also be preferred. Across five studies (N = 1,010) we examine non-punitive methods for restoring justice. We find that in the wake of a fairness violation, compensation is preferred to punishment, and once maximal compensation is available, punishment is no longer the favored response. Furthermore, compensating the victim—as a method for restoring justice—also generalizes to judgments of more severe crimes: participants allocate more compensation to the victim as perceived severity of the crime increases. Why might someone refrain from punishing a perpetrator? We investigate one possible explanation, finding that punishment acts as a conduit for different moral signals depending on the social context in which it arises. When choosing partners for social exchange, there are stronger preferences for those who previously punished as third-party observers but not those who punished as victims. This is in part because third-parties are perceived as relatively more moral when they punish, while victims are not. Together, these findings demonstrate that non-punitive alternatives can act as effective avenues for restoring justice, while also highlighting that moral reputation hinges on whether punishment is enacted by victims or third-parties.

The research is here.

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