If Torture is Wrong, What About 24?: Torture and the Hollywood Effect

22 Pages Posted: 21 Aug 2014 Last revised: 4 Nov 2014

Erin Kearns

University of Alabama

Joseph K. Young

American University; American University - School of International Service

Date Written: August 19, 2014

Abstract

Since the shock of Abu Ghraib, scholars and policymakers have engaged in vigorous debate over both the efficacy and morality of torture. Research on torture has focused on a wide range of attitudes about torture, the use of torture, what constitutes torture, why torture persists, and the efficacy of using torture. These studies have generally examined participants’ attitudes but have neglected to assess behaviors in line with stated beliefs. We offer a novel design to address this gap by examining how perceived efficacy of torture impacts the support for torture and ultimately behaviors consistent with these beliefs. Using a mixed within-subjects and between-subjects design, we presented participants with dramatic depictions showing torture as either effective in eliciting information from a detainee, ineffective in this regard, or a neutral condition where torture is not used. We found that dramatic depictions of torture as being effective increased both stated level of support for torture and behavioral commitment to this belief. Interestingly, there was no difference in level of behavioral commitment between participants who saw dramatic depictions of torture, regardless of whether or not it was effective, which may indicate people are more likely to support aggression after seeing violence.

Suggested Citation

Kearns, Erin and Young, Joseph K., If Torture is Wrong, What About 24?: Torture and the Hollywood Effect (August 19, 2014). American University School of Public Affairs Research Paper No. 2014-0001. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2483131 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2483131

Erin Kearns

University of Alabama ( email )

101 Paul W. Bryant Dr.
Box 870382
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487
United States

Joseph K. Young (Contact Author)

American University ( email )

School of Public Affairs
4400 Massachussetts Ave
Washington, DC 20016
United States

American University - School of International Service ( email )

4400 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

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