Punitive Reactions to Completed Crimes Versus Accidentally Uncompleted Crimes1


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    The study was supported by a research grant (11/74179-2) from the German Volkswagen Foundation.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Margit E. Oswald, Department of Psychology, University of Berne, Muesmattstrasse 45, 3000 Berne 9, Switzerland. E-mail: margit.oswald@psy.unibe.ch


Previous studies have shown that the harm caused by crime affects punitive reactions even if differences in the degree of harm are merely accidental. However, it remains unclear whether the effect is direct or whether it is mediated by attributed responsibility or blame. Participants were 303 university students who listened to 4 case vignettes (between-subjects design). Half received information about a completed crime and half about an accidentally uncompleted crime. Crime type was either fraud or rape. The results suggest that individuals consider the actual harm to a significantly greater extent than attribution theory would predict. Moreover, the link between harm and punishment was virtually not mediated by attributed blame and not moderated by individual differences in morality. Future studies should investigate whether the harm-punishment link is a result of an automatic act of retaliation or a desire to compensate for the harm done to the victim (restorative justice).