Justice reactions to deviant ingroup members: Ingroup identity threat motivates utilitarian punishments

Kyriaki Fousiani*, Vincent Yzerbyt, Nour Sami Kteily, Stéphanie Demoulin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


To maintain a positive overall view of their group, people judge likeable ingroup members more favourably and deviant ingroup members more harshly than comparable outgroup members. Research suggests that such derogation of deviant ingroup members aims to restore the image of the group by symbolically excluding so-called ‘black sheeps’. We hypothesized that information about a harm-doer's group membership influences observers’ justice-seeking reactions. Motives for punishment vary based on whether the goal is to punish past harm-doing (i.e., retributive motives), help harm-doers recognize the harm inflicted and reintegrate into society (i.e., restorative motives), or control harm-doer's future behaviour through incapacitating practices and exclusion from society (i.e., utilitarian motives). We hypothesized that immoral behaviours by ingroup rather than outgroup members jeopardize the group's reputation and therefore activate utilitarian (i.e., exclusion-oriented) motives for punishment. Study 1 (N = 187) confirmed that people displayed more utilitarian motives and less restorative motives when sanctioning an ingroup as opposed to an outgroup harm-doer. Study 2 (N = 122) manipulated typicality to the ingroup. Participants displayed stronger utilitarian (i.e., exclusion-oriented) punishment motives when the harm-doer was presented as a typical ingroup rather than an outgroup member. Study 3 (N = 292) replicated the findings of Studies 1 and 2 and further showed that people displayed stronger utilitarian punishments against an ingroup offender through the experience of increased identity threat. Contrary to our expectations, observers’ ingroup identification did not moderate the effect of group membership or typicality to the ingroup on justice reactions. Yet, ingroup identification influenced both experienced identity threat (i.e., mediator) and utilitarian motives for punishment with high identifiers experiencing higher threat and displaying stronger utilitarian punishment motive. We discuss the results in terms of people's concern for the protection of their group identity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)869-893
Number of pages25
JournalBritish Journal of Social Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019


  • group membership
  • intergroup relations
  • justice
  • punishment motive
  • threat
  • typicality to the ingroup

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology


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