When Cases Fit the Gist of Rape But Not the Verbatim Definition (and Vice Versa): A Fuzzy-trace Theory of Jurors' Judgments of Guilt
Jurors have duties to follow strict interpretations of the law when making decisions about defendant guilt. However, jurors are not blank slates – by the time trial has started, eligible jurors (i.e. adults) have already accumulated strong senses of gist (intuition) built upon experience, emotion, and moral reasoning irrespective of the law. We investigate the impact of verbatim (violations of rote legal definitions) and gist (bottom-line or essence) manipulations of rape on juror decision-making. Despite jury instructions, we predict that legal verdicts will be influenced by gist. Conversely, we predict that verbatim manipulations will influence personal assignments of guilt such that scenarios that violate the law will be judged as more immoral or personally violating. The first experiment measured responses to scenarios involving alcohol (N = 158) and scenarios involving age disparities (N = 206). Participants received one of four combinations of two cases, giving two verdicts per case, resulting in 4 total responses. These verdicts corresponded to whether the actions in the scenario rose to the level of rape legally and personally - participants gave hard legal verdicts (guilty and not guilty) as if participants were on a jury, and personal verdicts that corresponded to personal expectations of rape (still coded as guilty/not guilty). The presence of verbatim violations and gist violations of rape both significantly increased the rate of legal and personal verdicts, implying that 1) the gist of rape inflates legal guilty verdicts and 2) written law inflates personal opinions of what qualifies as rape while controlling for rape myth acceptance (endorsement of myths related to sexual assault and aggression). Experiment 2 (N = 258) improved upon the methods of Experiment 1. The age scenario was revised, and scenarios related to coercion and deception replaced alcohol. Overall, age-related scenarios were more influenced by verbatim, and coercion and deception were more overall influenced by gist. Follow-up studies with gender, survivor status, and law enforcement are suggested for informing relevant policy.
decision-making; Psychology; rape; judgment; Law
Ceci, Stephen John; Hans, Valerie
M.A., Human Development
Master of Arts
dissertation or thesis