Leniency for outgroup offenders: A strategic reaction to preserve the image and superiority of the ingroup?

It is a robust finding that the group membership of an offender affects lay people’s sentencing recommendations. Research in the domain of social psychology and retributive justice has brought forward two main explanations for this effect: The ingroup bias and the black sheep effect. The ingroup bia...

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Bibliographic Details
Main Author: Braun, Judith
Contributors: Gollwitzer, Mario (Prof. Dr.) (Thesis advisor)
Format: Dissertation
Language:English
Published: Philipps-Universität Marburg 2014
Psychologie
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Summary:It is a robust finding that the group membership of an offender affects lay people’s sentencing recommendations. Research in the domain of social psychology and retributive justice has brought forward two main explanations for this effect: The ingroup bias and the black sheep effect. The ingroup bias suggests that ingroup offenders are punished more leniently than outgroup offenders whereas the black sheep effect assumes that ingroup offenders are punished more harshly than outgroup offenders. The present dissertation provides a new theoretical approach to explain the different treatment of in- and outgroup offenders. In contrast to the ingroup bias and the black sheep effect, it focuses on the punishment for the outgroup offender and aims to explain cases in which outgroup offenders are punished more leniently than ingroup offenders. The core assumption of this novel approach is that ingroup members treat outgroup offenders leniently in order to protect their group against the threat of appearing prejudiced and to maintain a positive social identity. By treating the outgroup offender leniently, the ingroup can demonstrate its benevolent intentions towards the outgroup and avoid discrimination claims. This leniency is referred to as “patronizing leniency” to emphasize its strategic and ingroup serving character. A basic implication of patronizing leniency is that it only occurs for outgroups that have a lower status than the ingroup. Only high status groups can afford to treat outgroup offenders leniently and only for high status groups is outgroup leniency functional to maintain a positive social identity and the ingroup’s superiority. Another main assumption of patronizing leniency is that it does not only serve to secure the ingroup’s status in the current situation but that it can also have a long term status-stabilizing effect: whenever the outgroup complains about the ingroup in a subsequent interaction, the ingroup can refer back to the lenient sentence and dismiss the outgroup’s complaints as unjustified. The present dissertation also discusses the relation between patronizing leniency and benevolent discrimination. The leniency as a superficially positive behavior of a high status group can be considered a form of benevolent discrimination: outgroup offenders are only treated leniently because their group is regarded as inferior and harmless to the ingroup. The notion of patronizing leniency, its strategic and status preserving character were tested in four studies which are presented in two manuscripts. Studies 1 and 2(Manuscript 1) examined whether leniency for outgroup offenders can indeed serve ingroup members to protect the image of their ingroup. Participants in both studies recommended more lenient sentences for outgroup offenders than for ingroup offenders or offenders of unknown group membership. However, this leniency disappeared when participants were given the opportunity to demonstrate otherwise that they are not prejudiced against the outgroup (moral credentials). Studies 3 and 4 (Manuscript 2) examined the patronizing and status-preserving character of patronizing leniency. Study 3 shows that the ingroup only exerts leniency when it can afford it, that is, when status differences in favor of the ingroup are stable. When participants learned that it is possible that the ingroup loses its superior position to the outgroup the leniency disappeared. Study 4 demonstrates that patronizing leniency can indeed help to maintain intergroup status differentials. When participants learned that their ingroup had punished an outgroup offender leniently, they considered an outgroup member who legitimately complained about discrimination more as being a hypersensitive complainer than when they learned that their ingroup had punished the outgroup offender more harshly than or similarly as an ingroup offender.
DOI:https://doi.org/10.17192/z2015.0237