Social Justice Research

, Volume 23, Issue 2–3, pp 99–116 | Cite as

A Closer Look at an Eye for an Eye: Laypersons’ Punishment Decisions Are Primarily Driven by Retributive Motives

  • Livia B. KellerEmail author
  • Margit E. Oswald
  • Ingrid Stucki
  • Mario Gollwitzer


According to recent research on laypersons’ punitive attitudes people’s sentencing decisions are primarily driven by a desire for retribution. The research designed to test this notion, however, can be criticized for suffering from several limitations. Three online-based studies were conducted with samples from Western Europe with the aim of replicating the findings of Carlsmith (J Exp Soc Psychol 42:437–451, 2006) in which participants’ punishment motives were inferred from their behavior in a process tracing task. In the present research, this approach was adopted and modified in order to provide a more conservative test for the notion that people mainly care about retribution. Although these modifications strongly influenced the overall pattern of results, retribution still was the most important punishment motive in all three studies.


Retribution Punishment motives Punishment justifications Behavioral process tracing Just deserts 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Livia B. Keller
    • 1
    Email author
  • Margit E. Oswald
    • 2
  • Ingrid Stucki
    • 2
  • Mario Gollwitzer
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyPhilipps-University MarburgMarburgGermany
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of BernBern 9Switzerland

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