Flinders University researchers examined inmates’ attempts to make sense of their punishment, revealing that harsher punishment does not necessarily result in behavioral change or serve as a deterrent.
The study can be read in the British Journal of Social Psychology.
“Punishment is expected to have an educative, behaviour-controlling effect on the transgressor. Yet, this effect often remains unattained,” according to the study’s authors.
“Here, we test the hypothesis that transgressors’ inferences about punisher motives crucially shape transgressors’ post-punishment attitudes and behaviour.”
Across four studies using different methodologies, and a total of more than 1,100 participants, the authors determined that communicating punishment in a respectful manner increases transgressor perceptions that the punisher is attempting to repair the relationship between the transgressor and their group, reducing perceptions of harm-oriented and self-serving motives.
The research also concluded that attributing punishment to relationship-oriented motives increases prosocial attitudes and behavior.
“This research consolidates and extends various theoretical perspectives on interactions in justice settings, providing suggestions for how best to deliver sanctions to transgressors,” the authors determined.