Does the punishment fit the crime?

How do we decide how much to punish wrong-doers? New brain research suggests it’s strongly driven by our emotions.

In research published today in Neuroscience, neuroscientists measured how people mete out punishment by presenting people with different scenarios and measuring their brain activity while they made decisions.

When people were given graphic descriptions of intentional harm – an assault for instance – they decided on harsher punishments, compared with unintentional harm, or descriptions without the gory details.

Brain scans show why this might be so. Emotions are processed by part of the brain called the amygdala. This information is then linked to the prefrontal cortex, which aides in decision-making. But the new study found that the amygdala links to different parts of the prefrontal cortex depending on how graphic and intentional the act, which may explain why some people get harsher punishment than others.

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