This research uses experimental methods to gauge how different facets of essentialist thinking toward (1) types of offending and (2) biosocial risk factors for criminality predict lay punishment support. A randomized between-subjects experiment using contrastive vignettes was conducted with members of the general public (N = 897). Overall, as hypothesized, aspects of essentialist thinking, particularly informativeness, continuity, immutability, and discreteness, toward both biosocial risk factors and types of offending behavior generally predicted more severe punishments surrounding retribution, incapacitation, and deterrence. Yet, surprisingly, several of the same beliefs, specifically toward discreteness and informativeness, also predicted non-punitive sentiments toward restoration and decreased prison time in some contexts. This work demonstrates that essentialist thinking not only may affect how the public cognitively categorizes biosocial risk factors for criminality and types of offending, but also may have consequences for public support for the punishment of offenders with particular offense records or characteristics.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Clinical Psychology
- Psychiatry and Mental health