Some experimental and archival studies have found empirical support for the scope-severity paradox (SSP), according to which the perceived harm of the same crime or wrongdoing decreases when the number of victims is greater. In the context of environmental wrongdoing, we investigate whether the SSP applies when the number of perpetrators of a crime or wrongdoing increases. Using a survey experiment with two scenarios and five treatments (variations of the number of perpetrators and the individual and total harms committed), we test whether the perceived severity and punishment recommendation for perpetrators of an environmental wrongdoing decrease as the number of perpetrators increases, independent of the total environmental harm committed. Unlike the studies that look at the SSP phenomenon as regards number of victims, we do not find direct support for the existence of a SSP effect regarding number of perpetrators. We do find, however, that participants evaluating the one-perpetrator treatments are more likely to judge with the highest severity. We also provide some collateral insights such as the insensitiveness of participants to the individual pollution level, once the environmental damage exceeds a certain threshold. Our results extend previous SSP studies in important directions and suggest some policy implications, and avenues for further research.
Moral judgment of environmental harm caused by a single versus multiple wrongdoers: a survey experiment
18 January 2020