UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Fiat poena ruat iustitiam? Investigating endorsement of retribution and its role in mens rea attribution Nadler, Roland Charles


In the past decade, a proliferation of discussion at the intersection of law and neuroscience has highlighted the significance of public attitudes toward punishment, with claims frequently made regarding the popularity or prospects of retributivism – the position in punishment theory that privileges desert as the basis of punitive action. However, no well-validated instrument for measuring endorsement of retribution has been available to ground the discussion in empirical data, and little attention has been paid to the possibility that an individual’s views on retributivism may interact with judgments about intention and knowledge underwriting the imputation of mens rea (“guilty mind”). In Chapter 1, I construct and validate a new Endorsement of Retribution scale. In Chapter 2, I detail the design and results of a study that employs the new scale, investigating the relationship between participants’ Endorsement of Retribution scores and their likelihood of judging that a hypothetical defendant’s actions met a specific standard of guilt. The data from this study provided no support for the hypothesis that Endorsement of Retribution score is associated with an increased tendency to convict for legally irrelevant reasons. Moreover, highly retributive respondents were no more likely than other respondents to vote guilty for any reason, legally relevant or not. However, respondents were vastly more likely to convict an ostensibly nefarious character than an ostensibly morally upstanding one, regardless of retributive inclinations. These results highlight a previously acknowledged need to address the problem of cognitive biases in the reasoning that jurors are called upon to perform, while also serving as a reminder that the causal roots of such biases defy simple single-factor explanations, and partly dispelling the worry that attitudes about punishment constitute a major contributor in this regard.

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