Reactions to an offense in relation to authoritarianism, knowledge about risk, and freedom of action



This research investigated a situation where a fictitious company distributed contaminated meat that led to serious food poisoning. Participants (N = 241) responded to scenarios that varied information about knowledge of risk (aware, unaware) and freedom of action (free to act, constrained by higher authority). They provided judgments concerning compliance, foreseeability, negligence, recklessness, seriousness of offense, responsibility, deservingness, anger, sympathy, harshness/leniency of penalty, compensation, jail sentence, and community service. They also completed Altemeyer's Right-Wing Authoritarianism Scale. Results implied that high authoritarians were less sensitive and less responsive to information about the risk of contamination and more sensitive and more responsive to information about constraints from the higher authority when compared with low authoritarians. These interaction effects involving authoritarianism and the two contextual variables occurred for judgments that related to the organizations and to the executive officers within them. These differences in the reactions of high and low authoritarians to the contextual cues were interpreted as reflecting the effects of value differences and possible differences in the way information was subsequently processed. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.