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This study examined how the defendant’s race and the victim’s social desirability influence sentencing. Participants were randomly assigned to read one of four crime scenarios, featuring either a Black or White defendant or a socially desirable or undesirable victim. For each scenario the defendant’s race was manipulated and participants were shown a picture of either a Black or White male. Data were collected at two different time periods, because of potential influence of media coverage of racial bias in jury decisions. Therefore, the effects of defendant race, victim social desirability, and time period were tested through an experiment using a 2x2x2 design. The predicted main effect was that Black defendants would receive a harsher sentence than White defendants. It was also predicted that crimes against a socially desirable victim would lead to greater sentencing than for a socially undesirable victim. The predicted interaction was that the defendant’s race would influence sentencing less for the socially desirable victim, because the crime of hurting someone who is good is uniformly negative. However it was predicted that the defendant’s race would influence sentencing more for the socially undesirable victim, because the crime of hurting someone who is bad is more ambiguous. While there was a significant three-way interaction, results did not map on to predictions. Future research should continue to examine the effect of racial bias on jury decisions.



Thesis Comittee

Laura Ramsey (Thesis Director)

Michelle Mamberg

Caroline Stanley

Melissa Singer

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Original document was submitted as an Honors Program requirement. Copyright is held by the author.

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