Van Prooijen, J.-W., Coffeng, J., & Vermeer, M. (2014). Power and retributive justice: How trait information influences the fairness of punishment among power holders. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 50, 190-201.


In four studies, we investigated the effects of power on retributive justice judgments (i.e., the severity of punishment that people consider being fair). In Study 1, results revealed that participants who were primed with high power recommended more severe punishment than participants who were primed with low power, but only when the offender possessed negative character traits. In Study 2, these effects were replicated in an applied setting. In Study 3, we found that the inclination of power holders to base retributive justice judgments on negative traits only materialized when the power position was acquired legitimately. In Study 4, no trait information was given. Power again increased punishment, and this effect was mediated by trait appraisal ratings. It is concluded that legitimate power holders are more punitive due to their tendency to base retributive justice judgments on information or assumptions of negative traits that are stereotypically associated with offenders.