The patronizing character and status-preserving function of leniency for outgroup offenders

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Abstract

This research investigates cases in which leniency for offenders from low-status (out)groups reflects a strategy of high-status (in)groups to consolidate intergroup status differentials. In Study 1, we found that participants from a high-status ingroup recommended a more lenient punishment for a low-status outgroup offender only when intergroup status differentials were likely to remain stable. This leniency, however, disappeared when status differentials were fragile. In Study 2, we found that patronizing leniency can even consolidate intergroup status differentials: When participants learned that their ingroup had punished an outgroup offender leniently, they considered an outgroup member who legitimately complained about discrimination more as being a hypersensitive complainer than when they learned that their ingroup had punished the outgroup offender more harshly or similarly as an ingroup offender. These findings suggest that leniency for outgroup offenders can indeed be used strategically by the in-group to secure its advantaged status.

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