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Abstract

The present research investigates leniency for out-group offenders and differentiates it from the black sheep effect. The authors assume that leniency for out-group offenders can be used by in-group members to protect their group's image by displaying that they are not prejudiced. Thus, leniency should disappear when in-group members have otherwise shown that they are not prejudiced (i.e., moral credentials). In two experiments, offenders' group membership and participants' opportunity to establish moral credentials were manipulated. Results showed that out-group offenders received the lowest punishment severity ratings (Studies 1 and 2). However, this leniency effect vanished when participants had established moral credentials by either endorsing the participation of out-group members in lobby groups (Study 1) or writing about a positive experience with an out-group member (Study 2). These findings suggest that lenient punishments for out-group offenders may sometimes reflect a relatively easy strategy to display the in-group as being unprejudiced. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.