Retribution through Punitiveness: The Effects of Temporal Contiguity, Attributions of Vicarious Responsibility, Emotion, and Blame on Mock Parole Decisions and Public Perceptions
AuthorYelderman, Logan Anderson
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Parole boards make numerous release decisions with little time in between. Although these time constraints encourage efficiency and routinization, they also encourage the use of outside information, one potential source being emotion. When parolees commit violent crimes, coverage of these crimes might impact parole board members’ feelings of guilt, due to their feelings of responsibility for failing to prevent these crimes and protect the community. However, this might depend on the time between the parole board’s decision and the parolee’s crime (i.e., temporal contiguity), such that the more time between the decision and the crime, the less likely the crime will impact the parole board members’ feelings of guilt. Parole board members’ guilt might then influence self-blame, such that higher levels of guilt might lead to higher levels of self-blame. When parole board members experience high levels of guilt and self-blame, they might make more punitive subsequent parole release decisions for other, future inmates potentially because of higher anticipated negative emotion. However, this might depend on whether they process case related information emotionally or rationally when making parole release decisions. Previous theorists suggest that the attributions of responsibility are determined primarily by causality, knowledge, intentionality, coercion and moral wrongfulness; however, vicarious responsibility describes instances when responsibility is assigned to a third party, a non-causal party. Assigning responsibility to a third party might adhere to a different standard for judgment. The current study proposes a new model of vicarious responsibility predicted by knowledge, preventability, answerability, and accountability. One purpose of this research was to test a new model of vicarious responsibility. A second purpose was to use this new model of vicarious responsibility and related emotion to examine assignments of blame to parole board members for the crimes of a parolee from both a public member’s perspective and mock parole board members’ perspective to see if these attributions differ between the two groups. A third purpose of this study was to see if attributions of blame and emotional experience predict bias and punitiveness in subsequent parole release decisions. Results suggest that in cases in which blame is assigned to a third non-causal party, models of vicarious responsibility best explained this process for both the public and parole board members, but traditional models of responsibility were insufficient in explaining blame. Temporal contiguity was not predictive of blame, and need for affect and counterfactual thinking did not significantly moderate these processes. Moreover, the proposed model including emotion (i.e., anger and guilt) sufficiently explained blame; however, a second model of vicarious blame (Shultz et al., 1987) also explained blame without emotion. The role of emotion, though potentially important, is unclear. The current research also tested models of vicarious responsibility and blame in parole board decision-making. Results suggest that in cases in which parolees commit crimes after being released on parole, parole board members’ self-attributions of responsibility were related to increased feelings of guilt which led to increased self-attributions of blame. This blame then led to increased anticipatory guilt and more punitive subsequent parole decisions. This process is potentially mediated (rather than moderated) by information processing state, however this relationship was sensitive to how information processing was measured. Also, other models of responsibility, emotion, and blame, were insufficient in explaining punitive decision-making. Implications are discussed.