A Cross-Cultural Study of Punishment Beliefs and Decisions

Yanyan Zhang, Chuansheng Chen, Ellen Greenberger, Eric D. Knowles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The current research examined cultural similarities and differences in punishment beliefs and decisions. Participants were European Americans (N = 50), Chinese Americans (N = 57), and Chinese in Mainland China (N = 50). The Functions of Punishment Questionnaire was used to measure participants' beliefs about the retributive or deterrent functions of punishment and a scenario method was used to measure the extent to which punishment decisions were driven by individuals' concerns for retribution or deterrence. The results indicated that, contrary to the hypothesis that the retributive function would be emphasized by individualistic groups and the deterrent function by collectivistic groups, Mainland Chinese participants had a stronger belief in retribution and a weaker belief in deterrence than did European and Chinese Americans. The results also indicated that retribution played a bigger role in punishment decisions for Chinese than for the other two groups, but the importance of the deterrence function in punishment decisions did not differ across the three groups. Finally, the correlation between interdependence orientation and the belief in retribution was positive for Chinese but negative for European Americans. Taken together, the findings provided little evidence that collectivists are more deterrence-oriented and individualists more retribution-oriented.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5-24
Number of pages20
JournalPsychological reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017


  • Crime punishment
  • cross-cultural
  • deterrence
  • functions of punishment
  • retribution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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