Punishment Reactions to Powerful Suspects: Comparing a “Corrupt” Versus a “Leniency” Approach of Power

Kyriaki Fousiani*, Jan-Willem van Prooijen

*Corresponding author for this work

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4 Citations (Scopus)
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This study aimed to replicate the intuitive retributivism hypothesis, according to which people’s punitive sentiments are predominantly driven by retributive concerns. Contrary to prior research that focuses on how people punish offenders, this study investigated how people punish individuals suspected of immoralities. Moreover, we manipulated a suspect’s power level (high/low/undefined) and stated contrasting hypotheses (the “power corrupts” approach vs. the “power leniency” approach) regarding the impact of power on punishment motives. Finally, we investigated the mediating role of recidivism and guilt likelihood in these effects. The results replicated the intuitive retributivism hypothesis and revealed the robustness of this effect. Moreover, in line with the “power corrupts” approach, we found that the role of utilitarian (but not retributive or restorative) motives is stronger in the punishment of powerful suspects as opposed to powerless ones.
Unexpectedly, neither guilt likelihood nor recidivism of a suspect mediated the effects of power on punishment motives.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)164-173
Number of pages10
JournalZeitschrift fur Psychologie - Journal of Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr-2022


  • power
  • motives for punishment
  • utilitarianism
  • retribution
  • restoration

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