Keelah Williams

Evolution and Human Behavior published an article authored by Keelah Williams, assistant professor of psychology, titled "Capital and punishment: Resource scarcity increases endorsement of the death penalty," on Aug. 10.

Williams found that perceptions of economic scarcity lead people to espouse greater favorability towards the death penalty. Her research revealed that when people believe resources are scarce, they become less willing to risk the possibility of repeated offenses –- and, as a consequence, disfavor rehabilitative punishment strategies. These findings reflect the workings of a psychology that has evolved to respond flexibly to cues of resource availability in the environment, Williams suggests.

“To understand why people feel the way they do about the death penalty, we looked beyond individual differences to features of the environment that might affect people’s punishment attitudes, sometimes in ways outside of their conscious awareness,” Williams, who earned her Ph.D. at Arizona State University (ASU), said in an ASU article.

Worldwide, over 140 countries have outlawed the death penalty, yet in over 50 it remains the law of the land, according to the article. The researchers discovered that countries with greater resource scarcity were more likely to have a death penalty. Replicating the findings from the global study, U.S. states with lower per capita income were more likely to have the death penalty as a punishment option.

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