The animal in you: Animalistic descriptions of a violent crime increase punishment of perpetrator




Eduardo A. Vasquez, Steve Loughnan, Ellis Gootjes-Dreesbach, Ulrich Weger

Aggressive Behavior

Volume 40, Issue 4, pages 337–344, July–August 2014

Article first published online: 22 JAN 2014


Criminal acts are sometimes described using animal metaphors. What is the impact of a violent crime being described in an animalistic versus a non-animalistic way on the subsequent retribution toward the perpetrator? In two studies, we experimentally varied animalistic descriptions of a violent crime and examined its effect on the severity of the punishment for the act. In Study 1, we showed that compared to non-animalistic descriptions, animalistic descriptions resulted in significantly harsher punishment for the perpetrator. In Study 2, we replicated this effect and further demonstrated that this harsher sentencing is explained by an increase in perceived risk of recidivism. Our findings suggest that animalistic descriptions of crimes lead to more retaliation against the perpetrator by inducing the perception that he is likely to continue engaging in violence.





Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee