Negative Reciprocity Beliefs and Forgivingness Trait as Predictors of Attitude Towards Mob Justice

Bachelor Thesis, 2018

41 Pages, Grade: 1.1



Background Study
Statement of the Problem
Aims and Objectives of the study
Importance of the study

Theoretical Framework
The Negative Norm of Reciprocity
Belief in a Just World (Lerner, 1965)
Anomie Theory (Baker, 2002)
Review of Related Studies
Mob justice and negative reciprocity beliefs
Mob justice and forgivingness
Mob-justice and other factors
Statement of Hypotheses
Operational definition of terms

Study Design
Data Collection Procedure
Negative reciprocity beliefs
The trait forgivingness
Attitude toward mob justice
Ethical Considerations
Data Analysis


Discussion of findings
Limitations and directions for future research
Research Implications
Recommendations for practice





Ultimately, my thanks go to the Almighty God who has seen me through the various stages of life, and brought me this far. Secondly, it goes to my supervisor Dr. Francis Annor, for guiding me in this project every step of the way. Also, to my parents Rev. Caleb and Rev. Mrs. Beatrice Mensah, for financing my education, encouraging me; and for their love and support. Finally, I say a big thanks to Sir Chris Agbolosu and T.A Michael Nyarko for editing and drawing my attention to mistakes in my draft. God richly bless you all.


I dedicate this project first to my parents Rev. Caleb A. Mensah and Rev. Mrs. Beatrice Mensah. Secondly, to my supervisor Dr. Francis Annor, who has through patience and love guided and counseled me in conducting and writing this research; and lastly, to all my teachers in the past, now and in the future.


This research aimed at finding if one’s negative reciprocity beliefs and forgivingness trait are predictors of one’s attitude towards mob-justice. The population for the research was members of the New-Weija community. A total of 208 participants were sampled for the studies using the convenience and accidental sampling technique; 108 (51.7%) were males and 100 (48.3%) were females. Majority of participants were Christians with a percentage of 90.3%, 8.3% were Muslims, 1.0% were traditionalists and 0.5% were for other religions. Questionnaires were administered to measure the variables; negative reciprocity beliefs, trait forgivingness, attitudes toward mob justice and demographics. There were two hypotheses for the study, namely: there would be a negative correlation between people’s forgivingness trait and attitudes toward mob-justice and the second said there would be a positive correlation between people’s negative reciprocity beliefs and attitudes towards mob-justice. T he Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient was used to analyze the data. Results supported both hypotheses with a significant level of .016 for the first and .000 for the second; all falling below the significant level of 0.05 as used in the social sciences.



Background Study

It was around 10:00 p.m., B. A. had just returned from church and was about to take his supper when his phone rung. His friend needed him right away to get him some medicine. This young man left the food and rushed over to his friend’s place only to meet his untimely death. He had barely reached his destination when shouts of “thief, thief, thief” surrounded him. He had no time to explain himself. He was brutally beaten, and as if that was not enough of a punishment for a crime he did not commit, a block was used to hit his head; smashing it and draining his last breath. He was a young man of 27, who would have some day positively influenced the world, had his life not been cruelly taken away on that fateful Friday night.

The above tragic event occurred three years ago in Aplaku, a suburb of Accra; and this signifies the phenomenon of mob justice.

Mob justice can be defined as “an act of inflicting pain or agony on person(s) who is (are) believed to have violated societal norms or practices by either organized or unorganized group(s) in the quest to maintain or instill justice and security in the society” (Yeboah-Assiamah & Kyeremeh, 2014, p. 4).

Recently, the word “mob justice” and other synonymous words have been seen in the newspapers and media, and attached to such instances are words condemning the act. Mob-justice is absolutely not a new phenomenon, as history traces its existence way back to the biblical times. It usually entails being punished on the spot, by stoning, burning, lynching or killing. According to literature, some of such instances have been recorded in the old testament of the Christian Bible. An example is the story of two of Jacob’s sons who took justice into their hands and destroyed a whole city; because a citizen of that city had abducted and raped their sister, Dinah (Genesis: 34). Another example is when Absalom (David’s son) killed his half-brother, Amnon, for raping his (Absalom’s) sister (2nd Samuel: 13). Also, in the New Testament, an example is an attempt by the Pharisees to stone Mary Magdalene for adultery (John 8:7).

In the mid-18th century, vigilantism arose in the early American colonies. An example of such vigilante groups is the regulator movement of American colonial, who extra judicially punished banditry. In the year 1844, Joseph Smith, the founder and leader of The Latter Day Saint Movement, and his brother Hyrum Smith were killed by an armed mob of about 200 men, while in jail awaiting trial (Jenkins, 2012). Evidence shows that “from the year 1767 to 1909, 326 short-lived vigilante movements peppered American history, claiming 729 lives” (Adinkra, 2005, p. 414; Karmen, 2004, p. 353). There is also evidence that from 1882 until 1951, spontaneously-formed lynch mobs killed 4,730 people (Adinkra, 2005; Karmen, 2004).

In Africa, mob justice is an alarming situation that is lately posing as a threat to fair justice in most African countries. An example of such instances is the lynching and burning of Elikana Syongoh, an accountant with the Ministry of Defence in Kenya; his driver Moses Magiri, and a caretaker Simon Gombe in Migingo Centre in Kenya. The three were wrongly assumed to be cattle rustlers, because they had purchased eight quails upon arrival in the village. Despite their protests of innocence, the angry mob, descended on them with sticks, stones and other crude weapons. The victims were then set on fire alongside their vehicle (Muthoni, Karanja & Odhiambo, 2017).

Another example is the killing of four undergraduate students in Nigeria. The victims, who were from the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria, had gone to the Aluu kingdom to collect a debt someone owed them. A false alarm was raised that the four were there to steal. This drew the attention of the mob, who stripped them naked while beating them with sticks and rocks, then wrapped car tires around their necks—a form of torture known as “necklacing”. They were then doused with gasoline and set on fire (Duthlers, 2012).

An example of mob justice in Ghana is that of a 55 year old herbalist who was mistaken for a murderer by a group of about ten spectators. The herbalist, who was accompanied by his son, had just stepped into the bushes to gather herbs to prepare medicine, when someone proclaimed that a murderer was lurking in the bush. The herbalist’s son escaped and reported the matter to the chief of the village. The herbalist however could not escape and was unfortunately attacked by the mob (Adinkrah, 2005).

Statistics show that in the year 2011, the Kenyan police recorded 543 victims of mob justice in Kenya (Krinninger, 2016). In 2014, it was reported in Uganda, that 582 people died as a result of lynching (Krinninger, 2016), and within the period of five years (2000-2004), 1,249 persons were killed by mobs in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (Ng’walali & Kitinya, 2006).

“In Ghana, as at the year 2005, the general homicide rate was 2.0 per 100,000. Lethal violence was rare and therefore considered an extremely newsworthy topic” (Adinkrah, 2005, p.353). According to the Daily Graphic, from 1990-2000, 46 incidents of vigilante homicide had occurred in the country, however, it is believed that, this is an underestimated number, since all vigilante homicide may not have been recorded in the Graphic (Adinkrah, 2005).

In recent times, even though there are no statistics to show the rate at which such incidents occur in the country, news in recent time presents an alarming number of cases of mob justice in the country. Victims were either accused of stealing, witchcraft, homosexuality, and many more. The so-called justice the mob issues out to its victims include: lynching, burning, beating and hanging. The most tragic one that has been circulating on the net and on the lips of all Ghanaians is the recent grotesque murder of Captain Maxwell Adam Mahama, in Denkyira-Obuasi, (now New-Obuasi) in the Central Region (Sakwaba, 2017). He had moved to the community for three weeks on official duty, only to meet his untimely death in the hands of so called patriotic citizens who claim to be instilling justice. This indeed is proof that anybody could fall victim to mob justice.

Literature gives causes of mob-justice to include: High levels of crime in the urban area which has generated increased fears and anxiety about potential criminal victimization; this has made people less tolerant of crime and criminal offenders (Adinkrah, 2005). Another is the belief that instant justice will serve as a deterrent to potential offenders (Adinkrah, 2005). Also is the belief that prison sentences are too lenient and do not deter criminal activity, and that serious and violent criminals deserve more punitive sanctions (Adinkrah, 2005). Also is the perception that criminals who are released from prison immediately re-offend, and that murder serves a final blow to recidivist tendencies (Adinkrah, 2005). Lastly is the citizen’s lack of trust in the police (Tankabe, 2009), and their dissatisfaction with the state and its official policing and justice systems (Goldstein, 2003).

Statement of the Problem

Mob justice is a threat to the security of citizens in Ghana, if one is taking into account the tendency of the mob to take justice into their incapable hands. Tracing the history of mob justice in Ghana, and the circumstances under which victims are accused of wrong doing; it can be realized that normally the victims were strangers. They were not known in that particular community; hence they were easily suspected as criminals. This is a threat to all Ghanaians: this is because one may find him/herself in a different vicinity, village or region due to many genuine reasons. It could be due to national service, contracts, personal reasons and many more. Some examples of victims who died in strange towns are captured in the background study. They include Captain Maxwell Adam Mahama, Elikana Syongoh, B. A. and the four undergraduate students who were killed in Aluu Kingdom. There are many more of such victims stated or not stated in literature.

Secondly, mob justice infringes on the fundamental human rights of its victims. First, victims are denied of the right to life and this is clearly against the 1992 constitution of Ghana. Chapter five, and Article 13(1) of the constitution states that “no person shall be deprived of his life intentionally except in the exercise of the execution of a sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence under the laws of Ghana of which he has been convicted”.

In addition, victims of mob justice are denied the right to a fair trial. They are unfairly judged and sentenced to grotesque murder by the mob. The fifth chapter, Article 19(1) of the 1992 constitution states that “a person charged with a criminal offence shall be given a fair hearing within a reasonable time by a court”. Victims of mob justice are not given a fair hearing. They plead, and mutter words of innocence, but that rather fuels the mob to deal with them harshly.

Furthermore, mob justice violates the right of its victims to dignity. Article 15 (1) of chapter five, states that “the dignity of all persons shall be inviolable” this isn’t so for victims of mob justice. They are stripped naked, spat upon and rained with insults. Article 15 (2) of the same chapter also states that “no person shall, whether or not he is arrested, restricted or retained, be subjected to- (a) torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; (b) any other condition that detracts or is likely to detract from his dignity and worth as a human being. Victims of mob justice are tortured with beatings, cuts and finally, killed painfully by stoning, “necklacing”, hanging or burning.

Researches concerning one’s attitude towards mob-justice are however similar in their independent variables: in that all have correlated this phenomenon with external factors. These factors include corruption in the country and police trustworthiness. Some other variables used are age, gender and education. While it is true that mob justice is to some extent due to the social flaws in the system (Awuni, 2007 as cited in Yeboah-Assiamah & Kyeremeh, 2014), one cannot rule out one’s internal factors and beliefs as a determinant for this behavior. This study therefore focuses on this particular gap in literature and seeks to find a relationship between one’s negative reciprocity beliefs and forgivingness trait; and attitudes toward mob justice.

The negative norm of reciprocity as according to Gouldner, (1960), favors retribution as the best way to deal with offenses. This definition in a way explains the phenomenon of mob-justice, where citizens punish the offenders themselves. Also, Eisenberger, Lynch, Aselage and Rohdieck (2004), found out that “individual differences in endorsement of the negative norm of reciprocity influence the extent of vengeance”.

The trait forgivingness is the opposite of the negative reciprocity norm. According to psychologists, people with the trait forgivingness, believe that letting go of resentment or revenge is the best way to deal with offenses. They replace negative unforgiving emotions with positive ones (Berry, Worthington, O’Connor, Parrot III and Wade 2005); and this is evident in the findings in researches, where forgivingness has been negatively correlated with vengeful rumination.

The explanations and definitions of the variables above make us see the importance of those variables in predicting one’s attitude towards mob-justice.

Aims and Objectives of the study

The current study focuses on how one’s negative reciprocity beliefs and forgivingness trait influences one’s attitude toward mob-justice. Below are the aims and objectives of this study:

1. To find out people’s negative reciprocity beliefs and how it influences their attitudes towards mob justice.
2. To find out if one’s trait of forgivingness influences his or her attitudes towards mob justice.

Importance of the study

Mob-justice as explained in the problem statement is a threat to the security of citizens in this country. Despite this fact people still engage in it. According to social psychologists the first step in changing attitudes is to know the reason people have for engaging in that attitude. Previous literature has given some reasons to include lack of trust in the police and delay in the judicial system for punishing criminals. This study would add up to previous literature by focusing on a different dimension, that is, negative reciprocity beliefs and the trait forgivingness; in giving a different insight into why people engage in mob justice.

Secondly, this study would serve as a guide in changing people’s beliefs and attitudes towards mob justice. Once some reasons people engage in mob-justice have been found, steps can be taken to gradually change these beliefs and attitudes.

Lastly, this research would serve as a guide to future research. This research is the first of its kind in literature. It would definitely fill a gap in literature and serve as a guide to future research by giving recommendations for more research to be done on the phenomenon of mob-justice.



This chapter captures the theories underlying this research, and a review of other studies related to this research.

Theoretical Framework

The Negative Norm of Reciprocity

A norm is simply defined as something that is considered usual. A social norm is also defined as an informal understanding that governs the behavior of members of a society. The negative norm of reciprocity is one that has been in existence since the beginning of society, it is therefore difficult to get the proponent of this norm. The history of this norm can however be traced to the Hammurabi code, which was created in 1754 B.C. during the reign of Hammurabi in Babylon. It comprised of a set of laws and standards, crimes and their various punishments as well as guidelines for citizens' conduct. One particular code of interest to this study is the Law #196: "If a man destroys the eye of another man, they shall destroy his eye. If one breaks a man's bone, they shall break his bone…”

Gouldner, (1960), defines the negative norm of reciprocity as comprising of a unitary set of beliefs favoring retribution as the correct and proper way to respond to unfavorable treatment. Suranovic, (2001), explains further by saying that negative reciprocity occurs when an action that has a negative effect upon someone else is reciprocated with an action that has approximately equal negative effect upon another.


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Negative Reciprocity Beliefs and Forgivingness Trait as Predictors of Attitude Towards Mob Justice
University of Ghana, Legon
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negative, reciprocity, beliefs, forgivingness, trait, predictors, attitude, towards, justice
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Winifred Mensah (Author), 2018, Negative Reciprocity Beliefs and Forgivingness Trait as Predictors of Attitude Towards Mob Justice, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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