Masters Thesis

Mothers Who Kill: An Aversive Bias Examination of Juror Prejudice Against Mothers Accused of Filicide

Based on the theory of aversive racism (Dovidio & Gaertner, 1986), the current thesis addressed whether or not mock jurors show bias toward mother defendants who differ on ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and attractiveness. A 3 (Ethnicity—Black, White, or Hispanic) X 2 (socioeconomic status—low or high) X 2 (defendant attractiveness—attractive or non-attractive) between participants design was created. Participants acted as mock jurors and read a trial packet where a murder has taken place. After the trial description, mock jurors were asked to render a verdict, recommend a sentence, answer various culpability questions, and personality ascriptions. In addition, participants were asked to take a short survey measuring attitudes. It was hypothesized, in accordance with the theory of aversive racism, that we will find no main effects for juror decisions based solely on the ethnicity of the defendant. Only when ethnicity is coupled with other perceived negative variables (e.g. low SES or being unattractive) will we see jurors demonstrate bias. The results of the study suggested that jurors did not bias their guilty verdicts based on the aforementioned variables, but did express bias toward the Black and Hispanic, low SES, unattractive defendants by recommending significantly longer sentencing. The jurors also demonstrated bias in their defendant culpability ratings and trait ascriptions toward the Black and Hispanic defendants. The theoretical implications of this bias toward mother defendants accused of filicide and the limitations of the study were discussed.

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