Spheres of immanent justice: Sacred violations evoke expectations of cosmic punishment, irrespective of societal punishment

Namrata Goyal, Krishna Savani, Michael W. Morris

Research output: Indexed journal article Articlepeer-review

Abstract

People like to believe that misdeeds do not escape punishment. However, do people expect that some kinds of sins are particularly punished by “the universe,” not just by society? Five experiments (N = 1184) found that people expected more cosmic punishment for transgressions of sacred rules than transgressions of secular rules or conventions (Studies 1–3) and that this “sacred effect” holds even after violations have been punished by society (Study 4a-4b). In Study 1, participants expected more cosmic punishment for a person who had sex with a cousin (sacred taboo) than sex with a subordinate (secular harm) or sex with a family associate (convention violation). In Study 2, people expected more cosmic punishment for eating a bald eagle (sacred violation) than eating an endangered puffin (secular violation) or a farm-raised emu (convention violation). In Study 3, Hindus expected more cosmic punishment for entering a temple wearing shoes (sacred violation) rather than entering a temple wearing revealing clothing (secular violation) or sunglasses (convention violation). In all three studies, this “sacred effect” was mediated by the perceived blasphemy rather than the perceived harm, immorality, or unusualness of the violations. Study 4a measured both expectations of societal and cosmic punishment, and Study 4b measured expectations of cosmic punishment after each violation had received societal punishment. Even after violations received societal punishment, people expected more cosmic punishment for sacred violations than secular or convention violations. Results are discussed in relation to models of immanent justice and just world beliefs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104458
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume106
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - May 2023
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Fate
  • Immanent justice
  • Just world
  • Norm violation
  • Punishment, sacred

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