Free Will and Punishment: A Mechanistic View of Human Nature Reduces Retribution

Azim F. Shariff, Joshua D. Greene, Johan C. Karremans, Jamie B. Luguri, Cory J. Clark, Jonathan W. Schooler, Roy F. Baumeister, Kathleen D Vohs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


If free-will beliefs support attributions of moral responsibility, then reducing these beliefs should make people less retributive in their attitudes about punishment. Four studies tested this prediction using both measured and manipulated free-will beliefs. Study 1 found that people with weaker free-will beliefs endorsed less retributive, but not consequentialist, attitudes regarding punishment of criminals. Subsequent studies showed that learning about the neural bases of human behavior, through either lab-based manipulations or attendance at an undergraduate neuroscience course, reduced people's support for retributive punishment (Studies 2-4). These results illustrate that exposure to debates about free will and to scientific research on the neural basis of behavior may have consequences for attributions of moral responsibility.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1563-1570
Number of pages8
JournalPsychological Science
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This project was supported in part by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation (Award 07-89249-000-HCD), by the Regents of the University of California, and by the John Templeton Foundation. The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views of the funders.


  • blame
  • free will
  • morality
  • open materials
  • punishment
  • responsibility

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