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AP-LS Grants in Aid for Early Career Professionals

Funding Agency: American Psychology-Law Society

Principal Investigator: Colleen Berryessa

Dr. Berryessa and colleague Dr. Melissa de Vel-Palumbo were recently awarded the 2020 American Psychology-Law Society Grant in Aid for Early Career Professionals for our project “When Bad Things Happen to Rotten People: Tolerance for Incidental Suffering of Criminal Offenders.”

When people break the law, they often struggle to regain the trust and forgiveness of their community. Contact with the criminal justice system is highly stigmatizing, impacting opportunities for employment, education, and housing, thereby hindering attempts at successful reintegration. And while many acts of social exclusion are formally ordained through policy (e.g., felony disenfranchisement), other forms are more insidious and informal. In this research, we explore one such form of social exclusion: tolerance for incidental suffering experienced by offenders. This project, using experimental methods with online participants, investigates the failure of community members to sympathize with—and sometimes to even take pleasure in—hardships that befall those in the justice system. We highlight the cognitive processes underlying such attitudes, in particular how people may apply immanent justice reasoning to view incidental suffering as punishment for what they see as offenders’ immoral character.