Fourth year psychology Ph.D. candidate Friederike Funk discussed her research for those attending the second First Friday Luncheon of 2014.
A social psychologist, Ms. Funk is especially interested in various forms of punishment for criminal and other forms of deviant behavior.
Ms. Funk's dissertation addresses the question of whether we punish deviate behavior to promote desirable behavioral changes. Punishment does not provide satisfaction either for people who have suffered from the actions of deviants or who are observers of deviances, unless punish results in behavioral change.
In a different line of research, Ms. Funk has used such techniques as computer simulations and the application of makeup to change persons' appearances to test the effects of physical characteristics. The presence or absence of tattoos is a striking example of how appearance can lead to bias.
Ms. Funk has found that criminal appearance in general increases the likelihood of guilty verdicts. Imposing punishment or even assessing its appropriateness may also depend upon a lack of remorse displayed by deviants. This is a potential source of legal bias, as lack of remorse can also be a sign of true innocence, of course. Falsely accused deviants cannot demonstrate remorse when they have nothing to remorseful about.
Ms. Funk also described attitudes toward deviants in Canada, Germany, and the United States. Generally, people in the United States seemed to be "harsh" in the sense that they favored severe punishments for various crimes, while Canadians and Germans were more "lenient" in their approach. Their attitudinal differences do not really affect the penalties given to criminals in the three countries, however.
If you would like to read more about Ms. Funk’s research, these are the articles that deal with some of the findings she discussed (available online):
Funk, F. & McGeer, V., & Gollwitzer, M. (in press). Get the message: Punishment is satisfying if the transgressor responds to its communicative intent. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
Funk, F. & Todorov, A. (2013). Criminal stereotypes in the courtroom: Facial tattoos affect guilt and punishment differently. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 19(4), 466-478.
Kugler, M. B., Funk, F., Braun, J., Gollwitzer, M., Kay, A., & Darley, J. M. (2013). Differences in punitiveness across three cultures: A test of American Exceptionalism in justice attitudes. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 103(4), 1071-1114.