Justice is not blind: Visual attention exaggerates effects of group identification on legal punishment

Yael Granot, Emily Balcetis, Kristin E. Schneider, Tom R. Tyler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Why do some people demand harsher legal punishments than do others after viewing the same video evidence? We predict that inconsistent patterns of punishment decisions can be reconciled by considering the simultaneous effects of social group identification and visual attention. We tested 2 competing predictions-the attention unites and attention divides hypotheses-to understand whether visual attention exaggerates or eliminates differences in legal decision making as a function of social identification with outgroups. We measured social identification with police (Studies 1a, 1b) or manipulated identification with a novel outgroup (Study 2). Participants watched videos depicting physical altercations in which the targets' culpability was ambiguous. We surreptitiously tracked (Studies 1a, 2) or manipulated (Study 1b) visual attention to outgroup targets. Results support the attention divides hypothesis. Among participants who fixated frequently on outgroup targets, prior identification influenced punishment decisions. This relationship did not emerge among participants who fixated infrequently on the target. Subjective interpretations of and accurate recall for targets' actions mediated the relationship between identification and attention on punishment. We discuss implications for bias in legal decision making and policy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2196-2208
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2014


  • Eye tracking
  • Legal decision making
  • Punishment
  • Social identification
  • Visual attention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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