The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘capital punishment’

Mood and Moral Judgment – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 22, 2009

emotion3We recently encountered an interesting paper by Jeremy A. Blumenthal, “Does Mood Influence Moral Judgment?: An Empirical Test with Legal and Policy Implications” (29 Law and Psychology Review (2005)) on SSRN.   Here’s the abstract.

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Despite recurring interest in the potential for affect to influence “rational” reasoning, in particular the effect of emotion on moral judgments, legal scholars and social scientists have conducted far less empirical research directly testing such questions than might be expected. Nevertheless, the extent to which affect can influence moral decisions is an important question for the law. Watching a certain sort of movie, for instance, can significantly influence responses to opinion polls conducted shortly after that movie. Legislative action based on public opinion as so expressed, or media reports of public opinion based on such polls, could thus inaccurately reflect that public sentiment. This is especially so for social and policy issues that are heavily emotional, such as capital punishment or affirmative action.

Most discussion on law and emotions has been theoretical, addressing philosophical approaches to law and emotion. What psychological data exist are mixed, and virtually none appears in the legal literature. Thus, to bring the legal academic discussion into the realm of the empirical, and to provide further data on the question of affective influences on moral and legal decision-making, I conducted two experimental studies examining mood’s influence on moral judgments.

After clarifying what I mean by “moral judgment” and how I measured it, I report the methodologies and results of those studies. Briefly, the data support other empirical research showing that individuals in a positive mood (here, happiness) tend to process information more superficially than those in a negative mood (here, anxiety). I then discuss the results’ implications for the legal system, including implications for trials (e.g., victim impact statements or graphic testimony), and implications for public policy-making (e.g., the context of public opinion polls and surveys).

Most broadly, the data contribute to the developing legal literature on the role of emotions in the law. They highlight the importance of conducting empirical research, and of the translation of such empirics to specific legal and policy applications.

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To download the paper for free, click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Law, Psychology & Morality – Abstract,” “Situating Emotion,” “The Motivated Situation of Morality,” and “Moral Psychology Primer.”

Posted in Abstracts, Emotions, Experimental Philosophy, Law, Morality, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Punishment

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 24, 2008

Mary R. Rose and Janice Nadler have a nice paper, “Victim Impact Testimony and the Psychology of Punishment” available for downloading on SSRN. Here’s the abstract.

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A growing body of empirical evidence from psychology, sociology, law, and criminal justice has demonstrated that lay intuitions about punishment are strongly rooted in retributivism: i.e., the idea that punishment should be distributed in proportion to moral desert. Level of harm is often thought to be indicative of desert, but harm described by victims (or survivors) in the context of victim impact evidence is subjective and often unforeseeable insofar as it is attributable to chance factors. How do observers (such as jurors or judges) use information about consequences determined by chance factors when they judge punishment? The emotional and cognitive processes involved in jurors’ use of victim impact evidence potentially reveals key insights about the psychological mechanisms underlying laypersons’ punishment judgments generally. This paper explores empirical evidence for the notion that the subjective harm experienced by the victim of an offense serves as proxy for the level of defendant’s effort and culpability, and by implication, the perceived seriousness of the crime.

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For a related Situationist post, see “Why We Punish.”

Posted in Abstracts, Emotions, Law, Legal Theory, Social Psychology, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Capital Punishment – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 23, 2008

Image by ShanePapaDisel - FlickrKatherine Barnes, David Sloss, and Stephen Thaman, recently posted their paper, “Life and Death Decisions: Prosecutorial Discretion and Capital Punishment in Missouri” on SSRN. Here is the abstract.

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This article presents the results of an empirical study of intentional homicide cases in Missouri. The authors created a database of 1046 cases; it includes substantially all of the homicide cases prosecuted in Missouri over a five year period that were initially charged as murder or voluntary manslaughter and that yielded criminal convictions. The authors selected 247 cases from the larger database for more detailed analysis. We analyzed geographic and racial disparities in the rates at which: prosecutors charge first-degree murder versus lesser charges; prosecutors seek the death penalty, not lesser punishments; defendants are convicted of first-degree murder versus lesser crimes; and defendants are sentenced to death, not lesser punishments.

The Missouri statute gives prosecutors very broad discretion. We estimate that at least 76 percent of the cases in the database are death-eligible under the statute. However, prosecutors pursued capital trials in only about five percent of the cases. Thus, death-eligible cases in which prosecutors chose not to pursue capital trials comprise at least 71 percent of the cases in the database. Prosecutors in different counties exercise their discretion differently, leading to substantial variation in charging and sentencing practices in different counties across the state. The analysis of cases by race of victim and race of defendant shows that there are racial disparities in charging and sentencing decisions, but the racial disparities are not as significant as the geographic disparities. The article presents measures of racial and geographic disparities without controlling for individual culpability; a follow-on study will introduce culpability measures as control variables.

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To read some related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Death Row,” “Why We Punish,” and “Black History is Now.”

Posted in Abstracts, Law | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Victims, ‘Closure,’ and the Sociology of Emotion – Abstract

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 16, 2008

by Joe Gratz - FlickrSusan Bandes has posted an interesting paper, titled “Victims, ‘Closure’, and the Sociology of Emotion” on SSRN (forthcoming in Law and Contemporary Problems). Here is the abstract.

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The concept of closure, almost unknown two decades ago, has had a meteoric rise. It has been enthusiastically embraced by the legal system not only as a legitimate psychological state, but as one that the criminal justice system ought to help victims and murder survivors to attain. In the death penalty context, the concept of closure has changed the way we talk about the rationale for capital punishment, it has changed the shape of the legal process, and it has even changed what both survivors and jurors in capital cases expect to feel. Yet, as I will illustrate, the term closure in fact connotes several different and poorly differentiated concepts, each with separate and quite serious implications for the conduct of the capital trial. For example, depending on how closure is understood, it might require a chance to give public testimony, an opportunity to meet with the accused, a more expeditious trial, a sentence of death, or an execution. Yet there is inadequate evidence on whether any of these institutional processes or outcomes can actually contribute to a state of closure for survivors.

As current research in disciplines including cognitive neuroscience, sociology, psychology, and political science suggests, emotions are dynamic processes that evolve in a reciprocal relationship with social structures. As the legal system becomes increasingly invested in helping victims and survivors achieve closure, we need to take a hard look at the emotional content of this concept, and at how it affects, and is affected by, the institutional framework in which it operates.

Posted in Emotions, Law | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

 
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