Date of Award

Spring 5-21-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Forensic Psychology



First Advisor

Mark Fondacaro

Second Reader

Joshua Clegg

Third Advisor

Natalie Gordon


Justifications for punishment are generally grounded in retribution or consequentialism. Retribution presupposes a belief in free will, claiming that offenders freely and rationally choose to commit a criminal act, and are therefore deserving of punishment. Consequentialism does not necessitate a reliance on free will, and views punishment as means to a valuable end. In recent years, neuroscientific research has challenged the notion of free will, providing one pathway for a public shift away from retribution and towards consequentialism. However, methods by which to instill this doubt in laypeople are still being discovered. To date, no studies have attempted to instill free will doubt by providing participants with biopsychosocial effects of trauma, despite evidence showing that traumatic experiences may involuntarily influence behavior. This study used a 2 (biopsychosocial information, neutral information) x 2 (juvenile offender, adult offender) between-subjects design and measured beliefs in free will and justifications for punishment. Results showed a main effect of trauma informed psychoeducation on free will beliefs, such that individuals who watched a trauma video had lower free will beliefs compared to individuals who watched a control video. Effects of trauma informed psychoeducation on sentence severity and on justifications for punishment were nonsignificant. Mediation analyses showed that perceived culpability had an indirect effect on the relations between trauma informed psychoeducation and retribution [-.3106, -.0339], consequentialism [-.1257, -.0013], and punishment severity [-.3117, -.0327], In a sense, we have taken the initial steps toward the development of a new method by which to facilitate a shift in public perception away from retribution.



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