Ease of counterfactual thought generation moderates the relationship between need for cognition and punitive responses to crime

Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2009 Sep;35(9):1179-92. doi: 10.1177/0146167209337164. Epub 2009 Jun 9.


Punitive responses to crime have been linked to a relatively low need for cognition (NFC). Sargent's (2004) findings suggest that this relationship is due to a relatively complex attributional system, employed by high-NFC individuals, which permits them to recognize potential external or situational causes of crime. However, high-NFC individuals may also be more likely to engage in counterfactual thinking, which has been linked to greater judgments of blame and responsibility. Three studies examine the relationship between trait and state NFC and punitiveness in light of counterfactual thinking. Results suggest that the ease of generating upward counterfactuals in response to an unfortunate crime moderates the NFC-punitiveness relationship, such that high-NFC individuals are less punitive than low-NFC individuals only when counterfactual thoughts are relatively difficult to generate. These findings are discussed in light of punishment theory and their possible implications with regard to the legal system.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude*
  • Awareness*
  • Crime / psychology*
  • Culture
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control*
  • Judgment*
  • Personality Inventory
  • Punishment*
  • Social Responsibility
  • Thinking*