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“It’s Not About the Money. It’s About Sending a Message!” — Unpacking the Components of Revenge
The two most prevalent theories of why people punish others—retribution and deterrence—focus exclusively on outcomes: the material welfare and the well-being of the offender and the punisher. However, many if not most acts of revenge seem to be oriented not so much toward producing specific material outcomes or suffering for the perceived wrongdoer, but rather seem designed to send a message—to change the perpetrator's beliefs and/or mindset. Here, we not only demonstrate a direct causal link between belief-based motives and actual punishment decisions but show that these motives can be even stronger than the desire for retribution. In fact, we find very little evidence for purely retributive preferences (to inflict suffering on transgressors), and show that a substantial fraction of subjects are willing to compromise on distributive justice (to restore a fair allocation of wealth) to make sure that the offender understands the circumstances of punishment.