Graduation Year

2016

Date of Submission

4-2016

Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Department

Psychology

Reader 1

Daniel Krauss

Rights Information

© 2016 Bryn Bandt-Law

Abstract

The nature of capital punishment cases makes mortality a highly salient factor during trial proceedings. Previous research has explored the effect of mortality salience on human’s decision making in a legal context. This study extends this vein of research by examining the role death plays in jurors’ psychological processes when sentencing a defendant who is severely mentally ill in a capital trial. The current experiment measured mock jurors’ (n=169) and college students’, n=116) Mental Illness Worldview (MIWV), and then experimentally manipulated type of mortality salience (dual-focused: mock jurors who were specifically asked to contemplate their own mortality and were exposed to trial-related death references vs. trial focused: only exposed to death references) and the type of defendant (severely mentally ill vs. neutral) accused of a capital offense. We found that mock jurors perceived mental illness to be a mitigating factor when dual (i.e., self) focused mortality salience was induced, whereas participants only exposed to trial-related death references considered mental illness to be an important aggravating factor in sentencing.

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