The authors of this study suggest that the harm-punishment link (‘outcome bias’) can be explained by the activation of different judgment processes depending on the outcome severity of an offense: (1) a rational model for mild outcomes in which punishment is necessarily linked to responsibility of the perpetrator; (2) a justification model for severe outcomes in which punishment and responsibility are linked only when assessment order allows the latter to rationalize the former. Participants (126 university students) considered an unintentional road accident with mild or severe outcomes and made judgments of responsibility, punishment, and perceived seriousness of the offense. The results support the authors' hypothesis. In the discussion, the authors suggest different motives of punishment (preventive or compensative justice) which explain why responsibility and punishment are not necessarily linked. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.