How do we see any wrongdoing? Why we think of punishing a wrongdoer? And what makes us think of punishing them?
A new study has found answers to these questions. According to the researchers, it is the emotional response to wrongdoings that largely influences our desire to punish the wrongdoer.
The study was conducted by the researchers at Vanderbilt University, Nashville.
According to the researchers, humans posses a natural instinct to seek out justice. They say it is an emotional response that guides to decide on premeditated wrongdoing.
Lead researcher Rene Marois said, “A fundamental aspect of the human experience is the desire to punish harmful acts, even when the victim is a perfect stranger. Equally important is our ability to put the brakes on this impulse when we realize the harm was unintentional.”
Marois, a psychology professor at Vanderbilt University, believes that the study will help in elucidating the neural circuitry that allows this form of regulation.
Using brain imaging technique, the researchers specifically examined which brain part was functional while deciding over punishment.
The researchers say they found that the regions active during the judgment time in the brain were the emotional areas. The emotional area was only responsible for determining fault and compelled us to punish the wrongdoers in the first place.
For the study, the researchers involved 20 men and 10 women and introduced them to a series of scenarios, both graphic and factual.
They were introduced to a character named John, who inflicted harm, either in the form of death,physical assault, maiming or property damage. The victims were named Mary or Steve.
According to the researchers, half of the stories showed John’s actions were intentional. However, the other half of the story showed that all the actions of John were unintentional.
After reading each scenario, the participants were asked to rate the punishment that should be given to John for his actions on a scale of zero to nine.
Dr Michael Treadway said, “What we have 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.”
Treadway further added, “Although the underlying scientific basis of this effect wasn’t known until now, the legal system recognised it a long time ago and made provisions to counteract it.”
The study researchers concluded that the punishment level was found higher when the crime was presented in a graphically gruesome way. However, this was valid only when the harm caused was intentional.
But in the case of unintentional crimes, emotions did not influence the amount of punishment that is justified for the crime.