Why we sometimes punish the innocent: The role of group entitativity in collective punishment

Andrea Pereira*, Jan Willem Van Prooijen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Because punishments are expected to give offenders what they deserve proportionally to the severity of their offenses, the punishment of an entire group because of the misdeed of a few of its members is generally considered as unfair. Group entitativity might increase support for such collective punishment, because members of highly entitative groups are perceived as more similar and interchangeable. We designed three experiments comparing support for third-party collective punishment of low versus high entitative groups. As comparison base-rate, we included conditions in which participants punish an individual wrongdoer (Experiments 1 & 2). Results show that although support for individual punishment is higher than support for collective punishment, this difference was reduced (Experiment 1) or absent (Experiment 2) when the group was highly entitative. Experiment 3 replicated the increasing effect of group entitativity on support for collective punishment. We conclude that group entitativity increases the likelihood of an entire group being treated as a single unit, facilitating collective punishment when a few group members commit an offense.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0196852
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 3 May 2018


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