Date of Award

Winter 12-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Forensic Psychology



First Advisor or Mentor

Charles B. Stone

Second Reader

Mark Fondacaro

Third Advisor

Kelly McWilliams


The present research explores whether inducing empathy in death-qualified mock jurors leads to fewer death sentences in a penalty phase trial. Previous research has shown that inducing empathy in jurors leads to lesser sentences and perceived responsibility of the perpetrator for the crime. However, none of this research has examined death penalty cases, and most have focused on instances where the victim was also the perpetrator of a separate crime against the defendant (e.g., abuse). Extending this line of research, the present study examines whether these results extend to instances where the perpetrator and victim are strangers. Additionally, considering the influence certain impairments may have on the perpetrator's competence, the study also explores instances where the perpetrator exhibits evidence of mental illness, brain damage, or experience of sexual abuse. To examine this, participants were presented with a trial transcript and half of these participants were shown an empathy-inducing prompt. After providing a sentence of life in prison without parole (LWOP) or death, mock jurors’ level of empathy and the responsibility they placed on the defendant for the crime were measured. Results indicated that empathy induction did not influence empathy level nor verdict. However, predictors of verdict included confidence of the mock juror as well as the total responsibility they placed on the defendant.



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