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Professor Adam Benforado Receives NSF Grant for Study on the Motivations for Punishment

September 19, 2012

Professor Adam Benforado has been awarded a National Science Foundation grant for his project “Marking the Boundaries of Punishment: Retribution Directed at Innocents, Animals and Collectives.”

Benforado and project co-primary investigator, Geoff Goodwin, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, will be investigating what motivates people to punish by adopting the novel approach of investigating punishment motives directed at both humans and animals.

Benforado argues that studying the motivation to punish animals removes general deterrence as a relevant consideration because deterrence plays no role where the transgressor is not conscious of why it is being punished. The project also aims at measuring the scope of retribution by determining whether individuals like children and the mentally disabled, generally thought to be inappropriate targets for punishment, might also be the objects of retribution.

Benforado hopes the data from this project will be critical to a number of pressing policy issues, including the push to incorporate more retributive principles into state and federal criminal law, and recent moves to place limitations on capital punishment by the Supreme Court.

Benforado’s principal interest is in applying insights from the mind sciences—most notably embodied cognition, moral psychology and implicit social cognition—to law and legal theory. His recent scholarly work includes three chapters in "Ideology, Psychology, and Law," Oxford University Press (2012) and a forthcoming article in Topics in Cognitive Science.