New research by Associate Dean Paul Litton and MU Associate Professor of Philosophy Philip Robbins shows that offenders with genetic mental disorders are judged more negatively than mentally disordered offenders whose criminal behavior is rooted in environmental factors, such as childhood abuse. Additionally, offenders with genetic mental disorders are judged just as negatively as offenders whose mental disorder has no explanation.
Before conducting two surveys with 600 participants, Dean Litton and Professor Robbins hypothesized that offenders with a mental disorder that predisposes them to criminal behavior would be judged more negatively if the disorder was genetic rather than environmental in origin. That hypothesis was confirmed, though they were surprised that genetic explanations did not mitigate judgments of blame compared to cases with no explanation of the offender’s disorder.
They also expected to find that different environmental explanations would elicit different judgments. For example, they predicted that mitigation would be greater for someone who developed a mental disorder due to childhood abuse compared to someone whose mental disorder resulted purely by accident, such as falling off a bike. However, they found that judgments of blame and punishment were not affected by whether the environmental cause of the disorder was intentional or accidental harm.
Their article, “Crime, Punishment, and Causation: The Effect of Etiological Information on the Perception of Moral Agency,” will be featured in an upcoming issue of the American Psychological Association’s journal, Psychology, Public Policy, and Law.