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Scientific proof that humans enjoy punishing wrongdoers: The implications for punishment and sentencing

journal contribution
posted on 2005-01-01, 00:00 authored by Mirko Bagaric
Recent developments in brain science confirm that as a race we are in fact a punitive lot. Human beings actually derive pleasure from inflicting punishment on wrongdoers. We are wired in such a way that the part of our brain that reports pleasure is activated when we punish norm violators. This is even when punishment has no tangible or demonstrable benefits. However, we are not slaves lo our emotions. Another region of our brain 'kicks-in' if punishment becomes self-defeating, in that it conflicts with our other interests. The implications of this research for punishment theory and the practice of sentencing are discussed in this paper. The findings give qualified support to the theory known as intrinsic retributivism, but do not suggest it is the soundest theory of punishment. This is because we stop punishing when it comes at a cost to us. The good feeling that punishment invokes in punishers is another consequential consideration in favour of the utilitarian theory of punishment. However, it is not clear that the utilitarian calculus is necessarily affected by the findings. The main implication of the research findings relates to the relevance of public opinion to sentencing practice. The findings support the view that public sentiment, which seems to support increasingly tougher sanctions, can be curtailed of the public are informed that punishment comes of a cost to community.



International journal of punishment and sentencing






98 - 110


Sandstone Academic Press


South Yarra, Vic.





Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2005, Sandstone Academic Press