Date of Award

Spring 6-2017

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department/Program

Forensic Psychology

Language

English

First Advisor

Deryn Strange

Second Reader

Charles Stone

Third Advisor

Rebecca Weiss

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to examine whether hedge words and the age of a memory can influence the way participants (mock jurors) perceive an alleged sexual assault victim’s credibility. Prior research has demonstrated many issues that can affect the accuracy of memory for childhood events such as childhood amnesia, fragmented and distorted memories, false memories and source monitoring errors and the way in which jurors’ decisions can be swayed based on verbal cues to confidence. Here, we further investigated whether jurors' decisions are sensitive to the age of the memory—an event that happened in the recent or distant past—and the use of hedge words, that is, how confident adults appear in their memory. To determine juror perceptions of trial testimony credibility, in Study 1 participants read a mock direct examination transcript and answered questions regarding the claimant’s credibility and the defendant’s guilt. In Study 2 participants read a mock direct examination transcript followed by a cross-examination transcript. They then answered questions regarding the claimant’s credibility and the defendant’s guilt. Results from Study 1 showed participants found the testimony more believable when the memory was distant (15 years prior) as opposed to recent (4 years prior). Results from Study 2 demonstrated that participants found the testimony less credible and believable when there was a presence of hedge words. Indeed, participants were less likely to find the defendant guilty and gave a lower trauma severity rating when there was a presence of hedge words. We suggest that the cross-examination made participants more sensitive to the presence of hedge words, yielding a sense of uncertainty that led the participants to believe the testimony was not credible.

 
 

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