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The higher they are, the harder they fall: The effects of wrongdoer status on observer punishment recommendations and intentionality attributions

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  • Fragale, Alison R.
  • Rosen, Benson
  • Xu, Carol
  • Merideth, Iryna

Abstract

In two studies, we explore whether the status of a wrongdoer affects observers' attributions for the wrongdoer's actions and opinions about the wrongdoer's deserved punishment. We find that observers attribute greater intentionality to the actions of high status wrongdoers than the identical actions of low status wrongdoers, and consequently recommend more severe punishments for the former than the latter. Additionally, we find that the relationship between a wrongdoer's status and observers' attributions is driven by observers' perceptions of the wrongdoer's underlying social motives: high status wrongdoers are presumed to be more interested in their own welfare (self-concerned), and less interested in the welfare of others (other-concerned), than low status individuals. These findings have implications for the psychology of retributive justice, and suggest that punitive reactions may be influenced as much by characteristics of the criminal as they are by characteristics of the crime.

Suggested Citation

  • Fragale, Alison R. & Rosen, Benson & Xu, Carol & Merideth, Iryna, 2009. "The higher they are, the harder they fall: The effects of wrongdoer status on observer punishment recommendations and intentionality attributions," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 108(1), pages 53-65, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jobhdp:v:108:y:2009:i:1:p:53-65
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Fragale, Alison R., 2006. "The power of powerless speech: The effects of speech style and task interdependence on status conferral," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 101(2), pages 243-261, November.
    2. Tiedens, Larissa Z., 2001. "Anger and Advancement versus Sadness and Subjugation: The Effect of Negative Emotion Expressions on Social Status Conferral," Research Papers 1615, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.
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