Date of Award

Spring 5-9-2019

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department/Program

Forensic Psychology

Language

English

First Advisor

Kelly McWilliams

Second Reader

Angela Crossman

Third Advisor

Sean Murphy

Abstract

The present study investigated the effects of varying witness testimony on mock jurors’ perceptions of a case where a woman utilizes self-defense as a reason for killing her husband during a domestic dispute. A 3 (expert witness) x 3 (child witness) design was used to examine the effects of two different forms of expert testimony (Battered Woman Syndrome [BWS] & Social Agency [SA]) and its interaction with presence of child witness [age 5 & age 8]. Jury eligible participants (N = 245) were recruited from Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk). It was hypothesized that the presence of an expert witness would positively impact jurors’ leniency verdict (e.g., manslaughter or not guilty in self-defense) compared to the control condition, however, the effect of a child witness (compared to the control and expert witness impact) on jurors’ opinions was unknown (i.e., exploratory). Results revealed that jurors were most unforgiving towards the defendant when both SA expert and an 8-year-old child testified. However, for female participants the presence of a child witness, especially when paired with SA testimony, resulted in participants giving the harshest sentence to the defendant, suggesting the presence of a child witness may have created a “boomerang effect” whereby female jurors (who were mostly mothers themselves) found the defendant less sympathetic and more responsible for remaining in the dangerous situation.

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