Moral Foundations Theory and Attitudes Towards the Punishment and Criminalisation of Drug Offenders
Research on punitive attitudes has generally found some level of consensus on the relative seriousness of different offence types. However, how to approach the issue of drug offending is often a heavily debated issue, with some portions of society supporting harsh punishments for drug offenders, and others arguing for no sanctions at all. The current study, using both a student and general population sample, aimed to identify the underlying moral reasons behind these attitudes. Participants completed the Moral Foundations Questionnaire, a scale measuring the factors that influence a person’s moral judgment, as well as numerous other scales that measured their punishment responses towards a variety of drug, harm, and ‘taboo’ sexual offences and practices. The endorsement of binding moral foundations, those relating to group-based moral concerns, was found to be a predictor of increased overall levels of punitiveness, while the endorsement of the foundation of purity was found to predict punitive attitudes towards drug offences and ‘taboo’ sexual practices, but not harm offences. Additionally, there were significant links between participants’ levels of moral outrage, their preference for punishment, and their support for the criminalisation of the various offences. The results of this study suggest that punishment responses towards both drug offences and ‘taboo’ sexual practices rely on a similar moral reasoning process, one that relies on perceptions of impurity to inform the wrongfulness of an offence.