Judging the Goring Ox: Retribution Directed Toward Animals

Cognitive Science 39 (3):619-646 (2015)
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Prior research on the psychology of retribution is complicated by the difficulty of separating retributive and general deterrence motives when studying human offenders . We isolate retribution by investigating judgments about punishing animals, which allows us to remove general deterrence from consideration. Studies 2 and 3 document a “victim identity” effect, such that the greater the perceived loss from a violent animal attack, the greater the belief that the culprit deserves to be killed. Study 3 documents a “targeted punishment” effect, such that the responsive killing of the actual “guilty” culprit is seen as more deserved than the killing of an almost identical yet “innocent” animal from the same species. Studies 4 and 5 extend both effects to participants' acceptance of inflicting pain and suffering on the offending animal at the time of its death, and show that both effects are mediated by measures of retributive sentiment, and not by consequentialist concerns



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