Do preconceived beliefs about evil influence perceptions and punishments of those who harm others? We examined the effects of belief in pure evil (BPE), demonization, and belief in retribution on punishment of a stereotypically (vs. non-stereotypically) evil criminal. Participants punished the stereotypically evil perpetrator more (i.e., greater recommended jail time, opposition to parole, and support for his execution) because of increases in demonization (i.e., greater perceptions of the criminal as wicked, evil, and threatening), but not increases in retributive feelings. However, regardless of the criminal's exhibited stereotypically evil traits, greater BPE predicted harsher punishment of the perpetrator; both greater demonization and stronger retributive feelings mediated the relationship between BPE and severe punishments. Further, effect sizes indicated BPE (vs. the evilness manipulation) more strongly predicted demonization and punishment. Thus, some individuals naturally see perpetrators as demons, and retributively punish them, whether or not there is more explicit stereotypic evidence of their evil dispositions.
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