Implicit Theories and Capital Sentencing: An Experimental Study

33 Pages Posted: 19 Jun 2006

Date Written: June 2006


Social psychological research shows that some individuals ("entity theorists") view others as possessing fixed, unchanging moral traits; some individuals ("incremental theorists") see others' moral traits as malleable and dynamic. Such individual differences in implicit theories reliably predicts people's levels of punitiveness, their endorsement of certain moral theories and punitive philosophies, their likelihood of stereotyping others, and other legally relevant judgments. Empirical legal research on such beliefs relevant to the law, however, is almost non-existent. Accordingly, in three experimental mock juror studies, I investigated the effect of respondents' implicit theory on their capital sentencing decisions. Primary results demonstrate that across samples, (1) incremental theorists are less likely to impose a death sentence; and (2) entity theorists are more willing to impose a death sentence when the defendant is African-American. Policy implications are discussed.

Keywords: juror decision making, mock juror experiment, capital sentencing, law and psychology, implicit theories

Suggested Citation

Blumenthal, Jeremy A., Implicit Theories and Capital Sentencing: An Experimental Study (June 2006). 1st Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper, Available at SSRN: or

Jeremy A. Blumenthal (Contact Author)

Syracuse University - College of Law ( email )

Syracuse, NY 13244-1030
United States
315-443-2083 (Phone)
315-443-5394 (Fax)

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