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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Motivated Offense: The Role of Group Membership and Status Competition on Attributions of Offense and the Desire for Punitive Action

  • Author(s): Robinson, Becky
  • Advisor(s): Reid, Scott A
  • et al.

Norms of political correctness dictate that people should avoid making "offensive" comments (particularly about marginalized groups), and that some offenders ought to be punished. While there is research on judgments of offense, it involves comparing sensitivity to criticisms delivered by ingroup versus outgroup members. Researchers have not yet addressed why individual differences in offense judgments exist, and little attention has been directed at offense judgments that are generated by political correctness concerns. What is more, there is little research on the relationship between offense and the desire to punish offenders. In an experiment testing the influence of the group membership and status of a speaker, this thesis found that women were more offended and more in favor of punishing the speaker than men, and both men and women were more offended when the comment came from a man. Additionally, individual differences that predict offense and endorsement of punishment were identified. Specifically, the more individuals valued status, the more likely they were to desire punitive action against a high status speaker. Finally, latent class analysis revealed a class of people who endorsed punitive action but were not offended, suggesting that for some, punishing political incorrectness stems from opportunity rather than offense. The findings indicate that taking offense and punishing perceived offenders is motivated by more than just objective rules of acceptable speech.

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