This study sought to test the hypothesis that an individual’s retributive motive is activated automatically when he or she is presented with an opportunity to determine appropriate punishment. Fifty-one undergraduate students were subjected to one of two conditions: one in which an video clip of a brutal crime was presented (crime video condition) and another in which a sports documentary video clip was presented (sports video condition). Participants were asked to complete the Implicit Association Test before and after being presented with the video. It was predicted that the activation of retributive motive would strengthen the association with a balanced combination of these factors as compared to the association with an unbalanced combination of factors and increase the IAT effect accordingly. The IAT effect increased in the crime video condition but did not change in the sports video condition. This result supported the hypothesis, indicating that decision making regarding punishment is carried out automatically and outside of conscious awareness, as the IAT reflects automatic cognitive processes such as implicit attitudes.
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