Date of Submission

Spring 2018

Academic Programs and Concentrations


Project Advisor 1

Thomas Cain

Abstract/Artist's Statement

Although juries exist within the American justice system to guard against “the corrupt or overzealous prosecutor and against the compliant, biased, or eccentric judge” (United States, 1968), psychological researchers have been divided over whether mock jurors do indeed demonstrate biased decision making due to the mixed results of past meta-analyses (Devine & Caughlin, 2014; Mazzella et al., 1994; Mitchell et al., 2005). In order to address what has caused these variable results, researchers must begin to explore complex paradigms for juror decision making. As such, these present studies sought to test the theoretical mechanisms of one of these possible paradigms, the aversive racism paradigm, which proposes that mock jurors feel better able to act in biased ways when their defendant has a negative secondary characteristic (Dovidio & Gaertner, 2004; Pearson, 2007; Minero & Espinoza, 2016). If the mechanisms of this paradigm could be experimentally related to a defendant’s secondary characteristics, then the aversive racism paradigm could be used to explain the variable results of past meta-analyses. In result, Study 1 supported the mechanistic validity of aversive racism paradigms. Further, it clarified that certain theoretical mechanisms of aversive racism, including mock jurors’ preferencing of normative decision making modes and increased willingness to communicate explicit biases, actually preceded any influence of a defendant’s race, suggesting that this paradigm might even begin to explain the biases of mock jurors in studies that are unrelated to race. However, mock jurors in Study 2 failed to operate under an aversive racism paradigm, instead reflecting the decision making processes of an incredibly unusual population. Overall, both of these studies provide a unique mechanistic exploration into possible reasons why different juror decision making studies might arrive at incredibly variable results. In turn, the findings of these studies provide information about the biased decision making processes of a variety of mock jurors that should be considered for future research or for future juridical reforms.

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