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Fault trumps gruesome evidence when it comes to punishment
Date:8/3/2014

periences significant bodily harm from the fall and he dies from his injuries shortly after impact." And the graphic version reads, "Steve plummets to the rocks below. Nearly every bone in his body is broken upon impact. Steve's screams are muffled by thick, foamy blood flowing from his mouth as he bleeds to death."

After reading each scenario the participants were asked to list how much punishment John deserved on a scale from zero (no punishment) to nine (most severe punishment the subject endorsed).

When the responses were analyzed, the researchers found that the manner in which the harmful consequences of an action are described significantly influences the level of punishment that people consider appropriate: When the harm was described in a graphic or lurid fashion then people set the punishment level higher than when it was described matter-of-factly. However, this higher punishment level only applied when the participants considered the resulting harm to be intentional. When they considered it to be unintentional, the way it was described didn't have any effect.

"What we've shown is that manipulations of gruesome language leads to harsher punishment, but only in cases where the harm was intentional; language had no effect when the harm was caused unintentionally," summarized Michael Treadway, a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School and lead author of the study.

According to the researchers, the fact that the mere presence of graphic language could cause participants to ratchet up the severity of the punishments suggests that photographs, video and other graphic materials sampled from a crime scene is likely to have an even stronger impact on an individual's desire to punish.

"Although the underlying scientific basis of this effect wasn't known until now, the legal system recognized it a long time ago and made provisions to counteract it," said Treadway. "Judges are permitted to exclude relevant evidence f
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Contact: David Salisbury
david.salisbury@vanderbilt.edu
615-343-6803
Vanderbilt University
Source:Eurekalert  

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