Van Prooijen, J.-W. (2010). Retributive versus compensatory justice: Observers’ preference for punishing in response to criminal offenses. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 72-85.


In the current article, the author examines whether independent observers of criminal offenses have a relative preference for either retributive justice (i.e., punishing the offender) or compensatory justice (i.e., compensating the victim for the harm done). In Study 1, results revealed that participants recommended higher sums of money if a financial transaction was framed as offender punishment (i.e., the offender would pay money to the victim) than if it was framed as victim compensation (i.e., the victim would receive money from the offender). In Study 2, participants were asked to gather information about court trials following three severe offenses to evaluate whether justice had been done in these cases. Results revealed that participants gathered more information about offender punishment than about victim compensation. In Study 3 these findings were extended by investigating whether observers’ relative preference for punishing is moderated by emotional proximity to the victim. Results revealed that the relative preference for punishing only occurred among participants who did not experience emotional proximity to the victim. It is concluded that observers prefer retributive over compensatory justice, provided that they do not feel emotionally close to the victim.