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Zapata, Jimena; Deroy, Ophelia (2023): Ordinary citizens are more severe towards verbal than nonverbal hate-motivated incidents with identical consequences. Scientific Reports, 13 (1). ISSN 2045-2322

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Do we judge hate incidents similarly when they are performed using words or bodily actions? Hate speech incidents are rarely reported by bystanders, and whether or how much they should be punished remains a matter of legal, theoretical and social disagreement. In a pre-registered study (N = 1309), participants read about verbal and nonverbal attacks stemming from identical hateful intent, which created the same consequences for the victims. We asked them how much punishment the perpetrator should receive, how likely they would be to denounce such an incident and how much harm they judged the victim suffered. The results contradicted our pre-registered hypotheses and the predictions of dual moral theories, which hold that intention and harmful consequences are the sole psychological determinants of punishment. Instead, participants consistently rated verbal hate attacks as more deserving of punishment, denunciation and being more harmful to the victim than nonverbal attacks. This difference is explained by the concept of action aversion, suggesting that lay observers have different intrinsic associations with interactions involving words compared to bodily actions, regardless of consequences. This explanation has implications for social psychology, moral theories, and legislative efforts to sanction hate speech, which are considered.

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