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
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