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Torture is punishment



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Evidence that punitive motives eclipse informational motives among supporters of "enhanced interrogation" torture by Dr. Ian Hansen, Associate Professor of Psychology, Department of Behavioral Sciences.

The ostensible purpose of any interrogation is to obtain the truth about what a detainee knows and does not know, but punitive motivations often seem to affect choices that interrogators make about how to elicit information from such detainees. Three studies directly compared the degree to which punitive or informational priorities predicted decisions to use “Survive Evade Resist Escape (SERE)” methods and other forms of torture on detainees.  Results showed that participants were more inclined to torture detainees with violent histories but unlikely to be hiding critical information than detainees with non-violent histories but likely to be hiding critical information. In addition, multiple regression analyses suggested that punitive motivations generally eclipsed informational motivations in predicting support for torture. The results suggest that—perhaps due to the punishing nature of torture—punitive motivations may often guide decisions about when to support its use. 

Dr. Hansen is an Associate Professor of Psychology, with experience in social psychology, cultural psychology, political psychology and psychology of religion. His current projects focus on (1) understanding religiosity as a correlate of psychological conservatism that is potentially quite different from political conservatism (2) more generally assessing whether 2- or N-dimensional models of ideology strike a better balance between simplicity and explanatory power than the traditional one-dimensional (liberal vs. conservative) model (3) experimental approaches to transforming ideological self-construal, and (4) investigating whether there are moral objections to certain practices (like torture) that cannot be reduced to the known differences in moral priorities between liberals and conservatives.