Judgment and Decision-Making in the Context of Health and Law

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This dissertation focuses on three main subject areas for applied judgement and decision making: Vaccine uptake, the effects of concussions, and discretionary parole hearings. Vaccination is a key component of maintaining community health. Nevertheless, there has been a recent trend of people refusing vaccines, causing many dangerous diseases to return to modern society. Using a sample of 722 college students, we constructed theory-based measures to determine why people vaccinate (or not). Using hierarchical linear and logistic regressions, we predicted whether participants intended to get vaccinated in the future and whether they got vaccinated last year, respectively. We found that, as predicted, endorsement of bottom-line gist principles predicted vaccination intentions and behavior but in opposite directions. These results were significant while controlling for potential confounds and suggest that decision making theories, particularly FTT, may help explain why some individuals vaccinate, while others choose not to.Turning to concussions, research suggests that concussions may alter decision-making, specifically with respect to intertemporal choice, increasing discounting of larger later rewards relative to sooner smaller rewards. The objective of this study was to illuminate the relationships between concussions, as well as sub-concussive injuries, and temporal discounting in a non-clinical sample of college-aged athletes. We hypothesized that the length of time a person spends participating in a high-impact sport and the number of recent concussions a person sustains would predict greater discounting. We found that more years playing a high-impact sport (American football) and a higher number of diagnosed concussions within the past year were independently associated with greater discounting of delayed rewards, controlling for trait measures of impulsivity. Together, these results are consistent with predictions that recent concussive and cumulative sub-concussive trauma among young, nonprofessional athletes increase discounting of delayed rewards, with potentially deleterious effects on health. The U.S. prison system is one of the largest in the world, and it comes as no surprise that this system comes with its share of biases. However, although there is a large literature which has examined bias that may lead a person to prison, there is little research on what bias might exist to prevent someone from leaving prison, often through parole. Existing research on whether race plays a role in parole hearings is scarce, and most of the work is outdated and/or has been conducted without using data from real hearings. Further, there are no studies on potential sex bias using real parole data nor participants from the United States. Using data from all of South Carolina’s parole hearings from 2014 to 2016, we analyze, using chi-square and regression analyses, whether race and sex play a role in parole board decisions. Results indicated a bias in favor of women compared to men and against minorites compared to Whites. Further, an interaction indicated a possible effect akin to the defeminization of minority women and dehuminzation of miniority men. These results are the first of their kind and support the unfortunate notion that race and sex may be determining factors in whether an inmate is allowed to serve their sentence outside of the confines of prison.

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128 pages

Supplemental file(s) description: Supplemental materials for Paper 1, Supplemental materials for Paper 3, Supplemental materials for Paper 2.


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bias; concussion; decision-making; fuzzy-trace theory; judgment; vaccination


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Reyna, Valerie

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Blume, John H.
Brainerd, Charles

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Human Development

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Ph. D., Human Development

Degree Level

Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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Attribution 4.0 International


dissertation or thesis

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