Small Rewards

Is justice served when a criminal is punished? Maybe, maybe not.
Small Rewards

If criminals are given even token punishments, many people view that as “justice served”—and, so, are less likely to compensate victims for their suffering, say Gabrielle Adams, assistant professor of organizational behavior at London Business School in the U.K.; and Elizabeth Mullen, associate professor of management at George Washington University School of Business in Washington, D.C.

Adams and Mullen asked 29 participants how much they wanted to punish a perpetrator before they asked them about how much they wanted to compensate the victim. They asked a second group of 29 the same two questions, in reverse order. The pair found that those in the first group gave less compensation to the victim than those in the second.

Next, they presented simulated court verdicts to 191 participants. Some verdicts punished perpetrators heavily; others, lightly. Participants then were asked to decide how much to fine criminals and award victims. When criminals received token punishments, participants awarded less money to victims. But they fined perpetrators the same, regardless of the level of punishment.

The authors point out that in many countries, criminal cases must be decided before victims can pursue monetary compensation in civil cases. But this system could provide more advantage to criminals than victims, who might not be given the help they need to move on, says Adams. “Punishment and compensation, it seems, are not mutually substitutable,” she says. “This is one reason why victims of crime often do not receive the attention they deserve after a crime has been committed.”

“Punishing the Perpetrator Decreases Compensation for Victims” was published online by Social Psychological and Personality Science on July 11, 2014.