The Reasons We Punish: Creating and Validating a Measure of Utilitarian and Retributive Punishment Orientation

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Yamamoto, Susan Midori




Previous researchers have investigated the situational use of punishment, but the overall reasons why people punish have received less attention. The aim of this study was to create a measure of individual differences in punishment orientation. 200 participants completed a 30-item questionnaire designed to measure retributive and utilitarian punishment orientation. Exploratory factor analysis uncovered a ‘pro-punishment’ factor, as well as ‘ideal retributive’ and ‘ideal utilitarian’ factors. An additional sample of 200 participants completed a revised version of the scale; confirmatory factor
analysis yielded acceptable model fit for harsh utilitarian, harsh retributive, and ideal retributive dimensions. The scale showed poor divergent validity, with the factors having moderate relationships with attitudes toward the legal system (Schiffhauer & Wrightsman, 1995). Predictive validity assessments showed that participants favoured one orientation dependent on the context, resulting in poor predictive utility. This scale may nonetheless contribute to a better understanding of lay punishment ethics.


Psychology - Experimental




Carleton University

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