Personal Beliefs and Public Print: The Influence of Pre-Existing Attitudes and Pretrial Publicity Information on Final Verdicts
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Pretrial publicity (PTP), defined as any news story about a case not yet in trial, has been shown to affect trial outcomes. Results, however, are mixed, with studies finding strong effects, others weaker effects, and some no effects. These differences are sometimes attributed to methodology and study stimuli. In the present research, the effect of participant attitudes was explored. Participant attitudes can have a strong influence on perceptions about a piece of information, and could explain differences in use of PTP as well as findings that judicial remedies to alleviate PTP effects are ineffective. Participants were exposed to one of four news articles, containing information on confession, prior record, or resisting arrest, or only neutral information. They took a measure of legal attitudes, including questions relevant to the negative PTP information received, and then read a trial transcript of an assault on a middle-aged man. Participants then received standard jury instructions, a specific admonition to ignore PTP, or a specific admonition with the additional statement that PTP can be unreliable.
Results differed by content of PTP. Participants receiving confession PTP assigned higher guilt ratings overall; strong instructions increased guilt ratings and guilty verdicts among participants receiving confession PTP. Participants receiving resisting arrest PTP and specific instructions assigned higher guilt ratings than participants receiving neutral PTP and specific instructions. Finally, among participants receiving prior record PTP, a weak attitude toward a prior record as indicative of guilt and standard instructions resulted in lower guilt ratings than participants receiving neutral PTP; the effects were reversed for participants with a strong attitude that having a prior record indicates guilt. Stronger instructions weakened the effects of attitude and PTP. Results suggest that instructions specifically addressing PTP information may only ameliorate PTP effects in certain situations, and that psychological reactance, thought suppression and ironic processes provide better explanations for use of PTP, despite instructions to discourage use, than belief perseverance. Additionally, the effects of other attitudes specific to the case and the relationship between guilt ratings and verdicts were explored. Future research should continue to explore relationship among attitudes, evidence, PTP, and outcomes.
Locatelli, Sara Marie, "Personal Beliefs and Public Print: The Influence of Pre-Existing Attitudes and Pretrial Publicity Information on Final Verdicts" (2011). Dissertations. 248.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.
Copyright © 2011 Sara Marie Locatelli