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Empathy and Jurors' Decisions in Patricide Trials Involving Child Sexual Assault Allegations

Tamara M. Haegerich and Bette L. Bottoms
Law and Human Behavior
Vol. 24, No. 4 (Aug., 2000), pp. 421-448
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1394458
Page Count: 28
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Empathy and Jurors' Decisions in Patricide Trials Involving Child Sexual Assault Allegations
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Abstract

In a mock-trial paradigm, 205 participants considered a patricide trial in which a child defendant claimed the patricide was done in self-defense after years of sexual abuse. Participants in an empathy-induction condition were asked to take the perspective of the defendant and to detail how they would be thinking and feeling if they were the defendant. Control condition participants received no such instructions. Results indicated that, compared to jurors in the control condition, jurors who were asked to take the defendant's perspective had more empathy for the defendant (without feeling more similar to or more sympathy for the defendant), found the defendant less guilty and less responsible for the murder, and were more likely to consider abuse to be a mitigating factor in the killing. Overall, compared to men, women were more likely to believe the defendant's abuse allegations, find the defendant credible, and consider the defendant to be less responsible for the murder. Women in the empathy condition found the defendant less guilty than did all other jurors. Finally, child defendant gender was also varied, but this had few effects on case judgments overall. Jurors, however, were more likely to believe that the girl defendant was sexually abused than the boy defendant. We discuss theoretical implications for understanding the social psychological construct of empathy as well as implications for understanding jurors' decisions in cases involving child sexual assault allegations.

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