Scope insensitivity in juries

by Scott Alexander1 min read2nd Oct 20101 comment


Scope Insensitivity
Personal Blog

Juries found to give harsher penalties to criminals who hurt few people than to those who hurt fewer people:

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I think you made a typo somewhere.

Anyway, here's the abstract:


Punishment should be sensitive to the severity of the crime. Yet in three studies the authors found that increasing the number of people victimized by a crime actually decreases the perceived severity of that crime and leads people to recommend less punishment for crimes that victimize more people. The authors further demonstrate the process behind the scope-severity paradox—the victim identifiability effect—and test a strategy for overcoming this bias. Although Studies 1 and 2 document this phenomenon in the lab, in Study 3 the authors used archival data to demonstrate that the scope-severity paradox is a robust, real-world effect. They collected archival data of actual jury verdicts spanning a 10-year period and found that juries required defendants to pay higher punitive damages when their negligent behavior harmed fewer people.