The Roles of Dehumanization and Moral Outrage in Retributive Justice
When innocents are intentionally harmed, people are motivated to see that offenders get their “just deserts”. The severity of the punishment they seek is driven by the perceived magnitude of the harm and moral outrage. The present research extended this model of retributive justice by incorporating the role of offender dehumanization. In three experiments relying on survey methodology in Australia and the United States, participants read about different crimes that varied by type (child molestation, violent, or white collar – Studies 1 and 2) or severity (Study 3). The findings demonstrated that both moral outrage and dehumanization predicted punishment independently of the effects of crime type or crime severity. Both moral outrage and dehumanization mediated the relationship between perceived harm and severity of punishment. These findings highlight the role of offender dehumanization in punishment decisions and extend our understanding of processes implicated in retributive justice.