Believe in Pure Evil? You're More Likely To Support Death Penalty For Boston Marathon Massacre Killer

Makes sense.  Those who believe in pure evil support harsher criminal punishment, according to a new study as reported at

Approximately 200 participants were given a summary of a case in which a murderer confessed to his crime. Researchers then asked each participant about his or her support for different types of sentences, such as jail time with community service, jail time with the opportunity for parole, jail time without the possibility for parole and other options.

"We found that as people's beliefs in pure evil increased, they were more likely to support sentences like life in prison without parole and even the death penalty," Kansas State University Donald Saucier, associate professor of psychological sciences, says. "We found that this actually happened through our participants perceiving the murderer as a demon and feeling that there was some need for retribution for the murder committed."

Many people in my Connecticut hometown felt that a 15-year-old murderer should fry.  While I certainly don't condone his behavior, I knew the kid when he was younger and he was not a bad kid -- at least, not then.  I'm thinking of writing him a letter of support because I know something happened -- he got in with the wrong crowd, had no one looking out for him, was sent to a school for juvenile delinquents long before he became one.  Plenty of people (including my son, who was his friend) think I'm crazy but I don't see this kid as evil.  Yes, an innocent man was stabbed to death for allegedly spilling coffee on him (and then apologizing), but this kid was a victim of crime, too.  No one loving him enough to set him straight.

The study found that when researchers changed the murderer's characteristics to be consistent with stereotypes about evil -- interested in the occult, taunting neighborhood children and wearing all black -- people were harshest. The characteristics also were changed so the murderer was less stereotypically evil. This included having the murderer be relatively quiet, having a family and being interested in camping.

"People who saw the stereotypically evil person versus the non-stereotypically evil person recommended greater sentences," Saucier says. "But, if they believed in pure evil, it didn't matter the characteristics; they were more likely to support the death penalty or life in prison. The belief in pure evil overrode our stereotypically evil person."

Now we get to the Boston Massacre killer, for whom the death penalty has been proposed.  I know what he did was heinous but I'm pretty much against the death penalty for anyone (though there's a small part of me that thinks maybe, just the same).

Researchers say the perception of evil may help explain how a court jury or judge is likely to assign punishment for a crime. While a belief in pure evil probably would not prompt a guilty verdict, it may influence the jury's sentence, Saucier says. For example, sentencing in the very trials of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Colorado movie theater shooter James Holmes could be influenced by jury members' belief in pure evil.

Saucier says it's likely that life experience more than religion is what influences a belief in pure evil. When investigating whether a religious upbringing was linked to a belief in pure evil, researchers found that people's belief in pure evil didn't necessitate a belief in pure good and vice versa.

"This belief may change based on traumas, victimization and the celebrations of human success in our life," Saucier says. "We think it's a dynamic variable and influences our social interaction and social perceptions."


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