The Effect of Jury Deliberation on Juvenile Offender Stereotypes

Haegerich, T. M., Salerno, J. M., & Bottoms, B. L. (2012). Are the effects of juvenile offender stereotypes maximized or minimized by jury deliberation? Psychology: Public Policy and Law. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027808.

Although jurors are instructed to focus on the evidence presented and to remain open-minded, pre-existing stereotypes may influence jurors’ attention, encoding and recall of evidence, and ultimately their judgments about the case. Haegerich and colleagues (2012) investigated the impact of pre-existing and experimentally activated juvenile offender stereotypes on the decisions of mock jurors who heard a criminal case against a juvenile defendant. They were also interested in the effect of jury deliberation on these stereotypes. The authors tested for two subtypes of juvenile offender stereotypes, which were identified in their review of the literature: the “Superpredator” and the “Wayward Youth.” The Superpredator subtype reflects the view that juvenile delinquency is a product of nature, or innate personality characteristics, and that delinquents are ruthless individuals who should be punished for their actions. The Wayward Youth subtype portrays juvenile delinquency as a product of nurture, or the social environment, and delinquents as disadvantaged youth who should be rehabilitated. Student mock jurors were administered a measure of juvenile offender stereotypes and then, later in the semester, were exposed to a case description in which the juvenile defendant was described as either a Superpredator, a Wayward Youth, or neither (the control condition). Results showed that (1) the Superpredator and Wayward Youth subtypes of the juvenile offender stereotype were confirmed, (2) these subtypes could be activated by manipulating case content, (3) these subtypes influenced case judgments, such that guilty verdicts were more likely when the Superpredator subtype was activated, and (4) the jury deliberation process appeared to minimize pre-existing stereotypes, but maximize stereotypes that were activated through case content. Based on these findings, the authors recommended that instructions to juries emphasize the potential for bias and detail strategies for maintaining objectivity.

Making Connections

Group influence
Nature and nurture

Media Supplement

This NPR podcast explores the U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down state and federal laws imposing a mandatory sentence of life without parole for juveniles convicted of murder. [3 min 57 sec]