On Solid Ground: Evaluating the Effects of Foundational Arguments on Human Rights Attitudes

  • Stephen ArvesEmail author
  • Joseph Braun


What makes some human rights campaigns for the physical integrity rights of prisoners more effective than others? Despite various normative arguments condemning these practices, only limited systematic analysis documents the relative effectiveness of different arguments on individuals. This is surprising, because the success of human rights campaigns depends on getting individuals to care about and support policy positions that protect human rights. We constructed an experiment to compare the effects of six different arguments against prisoner abuse and torture. We found that an argument which emphasized the suffering of the prisoner had a consistently positive and significant effect on opposition to torture and prisoner abuse. However, this effect was largely contingent on subjects’ political ideology. Political conservatives actually became less opposed to torture, on average, after reading the same argument emphasizing the prisoners’ suffering or the sacredness of human beings.


Physical integrity rights Philosophical foundations Experiment Attitudes 



Both authors contributed equally to this project. The authors are grateful for helpful feedback received at a University of Maryland Comparative Politics Workshop (2015), the International Studies Association Annual Convention (2015), and The Social Practice of Human Rights Conference (2015). The authors thank the Political Theory Subfield at the University of Maryland for a research grant to carry out the experiment. Experiment approved under University of Maryland IRB no. 560302-7.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for International Development and Conflict Management (CIDCM)University of MarylandCollege ParkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of NebraskaLincolnUSA

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