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Culture, Cognition, and Consent: Who Perceives What, and Why, in 'Acquaintance Rape' Cases


Dan M. Kahan


Yale University - Law School; Harvard University - Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics

December 12, 2009

University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Forthcoming
CELS 2009 4th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper
Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 196

Abstract:     
This paper uses the theory of cultural cognition to examine the debate over rape-law reform. Cultural cognition refers to the tendency of individuals to conform their perceptions of legally consequential facts to their defining group commitments. Results of an original experimental study (N = 1,500) confirmed the impact of cultural cognition on perceptions of fact in a controversial acquaintance-rape case. The major finding was that a hierarchical worldview, as opposed to an egalitarian one, inclined individuals to perceive that the defendant reasonably understood the complainant as consenting to sex despite her repeated verbal objections. The effect of hierarchy in inclining subjects to favor acquittal was greatest among women; this finding was consistent with the hypothesis that hierarchical women have a distinctive interest in stigmatizing rape complainants whose behavior deviates from hierarchical gender norms. The study also found that cultural predispositions have a much larger impact on outcome judgments than do legal definitions, variations in which had either no or a small impact on the likelihood subjects would support or oppose conviction. The paper links date-rape reform to a class of controversies in law that reflect symbolic status competition between opposing cultural groups, and addresses the normative implications of this conclusion.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 75

Keywords: cultural cognition, criminal law, rape

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Date posted: July 22, 2009 ; Last revised: April 16, 2013

Suggested Citation

Kahan, Dan M., Culture, Cognition, and Consent: Who Perceives What, and Why, in 'Acquaintance Rape' Cases (December 12, 2009). University of Pennsylvania Law Review, Forthcoming; CELS 2009 4th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper; Yale Law School, Public Law Working Paper No. 196. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1437742

Contact Information

Dan M. Kahan (Contact Author)
Yale University - Law School ( email )
P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
HOME PAGE: http://www.culturalcognition.net/kahan
Harvard University - Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics ( email )
124 Mount Auburn Street
Suite 520N
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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