Perpetrator or victim? Effects of who suffers in an automobile accident on judgemental strictness

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Jerry I. Shaw
James McMartin
Cite this article:  Shaw, J., & McMartin, J. (1975). Perpetrator or victim? Effects of who suffers in an automobile accident on judgemental strictness. Social Behavior and Personality: An international journal, 3(1), 5-12.


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After reading of an automobile accident in which the driver and/or bystanders either suffered or did not suffer, participants rated the driver’s responsibility for the accident and sentenced him to a jail term. The purpose of this experiment was to contrast 3 theoretical models: defensive attribution, moral salience, and equity. Results indicated that male participants utilized an equity principle by relaxing their strictness of judgment, in terms of time sentenced to jail, when the accident perpetrator himself suffered harmful consequences. Females invoked a moral salience principle in that judgmental strictness increased only when bystanders were harmed. Regardless of sex, participants expressed a preference for information
regarding the personal characteristics of the accident perpetrator as contrasted with information about the environment. This finding was considered in relation to recent developments in attribution theory.

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