How reputation does (and does not) drive people to punish without looking

Jillian J. Jordan*, Nour S. Kteily

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Punishing wrongdoers can confer reputational benefits, and people sometimes punish without careful consideration. But are these observations related? Does reputation drive people to people to “punish without looking”? And if so, is this because unquestioning punishment looks particularly virtuous? To investigate, we assigned “Actors” to decide whether to sign punitive petitions about politicized issues (“punishment”), after first deciding whether to read articles opposing these petitions (“looking”). To manipulate reputation, we matched Actors with copartisan “Evaluators,” varying whether Evaluators observed i) nothing about Actors’ behavior, ii) whether Actors punished, or iii) whether Actors punished and whether they looked. Across four studies of Americans (total n = 10,343), Evaluators rated Actors more positively, and financially rewarded them, if they chose to (vs. not to) punish. Correspondingly, making punishment observable to Evaluators (i.e., moving from our first to second condition) drove Actors to punish more overall. Furthermore, because some of these individuals did not look, making punishment observable increased rates of punishment without looking. Yet punishers who eschewed opposing perspectives did not appear particularly virtuous. In fact, Evaluators preferred Actors who punished with (vs. without) looking. Correspondingly, making looking observable (i.e., moving from our second to third condition) drove Actors to look more overall—and to punish without looking at comparable or diminished rates. We thus find that reputation can encourage reflexive punishment—but simply as a byproduct of generally encouraging punishment, and not as a specific reputational strategy. Indeed, rather than fueling unquestioning decisions, spotlighting punishers’ decision-making processes may encourage reflection.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2302475120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number28
StatePublished - 2023


  • ideology
  • moralistic punishment
  • opposing perspectives
  • outrage culture
  • signaling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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