Sanctions and moral judgments: The moderating effect of sanction severity and trust in authorities
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In order to induce people to follow rules, sanctions are often introduced. In this paper we argue for the importance of studying the positive influence of sanctioning systems on people's moral convictions regarding the rule advocated by the sanction and of studying factors that moderate this influence. In three experiments we tested the influence of sanction severity and showed that severe sanctions evoke stronger moral judgments with regard to rule-breaking behavior and stronger social disapproval towards rule-breakers than mild sanctions. This was particularly the case when trust in authorities is high rather than low. Implications of these findings are discussed. Also, a framework is proposed to understand the possible circumstances that determine whether sanctions either increase or decrease moral norms.