Death Penalty Beliefs: How Attitudes are Shaped and Revised

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Although most Americans support capital punishment, many people have misconceptions about its efficacy and administration (e.g., that capital punishment deters crime). Can correcting people’s inaccurate attitudes change their support for

Although most Americans support capital punishment, many people have misconceptions about its efficacy and administration (e.g., that capital punishment deters crime). Can correcting people’s inaccurate attitudes change their support for the death penalty? If not, are there other strategies that might shift people’s attitudes about the death penalty? Some research suggests that statistical information can correct misconceptions about polarizing topics. Yet, statistics might be irrelevant if people support capital punishment for purely retributive reasons, suggesting other argumentative strategies may be more effective. In Study 1, I compared how two different interventions shifted attitudes towards the death penalty. In Studies 2 - 4 I examined what other attitudes shape endorsement of capital punishment, and used these findings to develop and test an educational intervention aimed at providing information about errors in the implementation of the death penalty. Altogether, these findings suggest that attitudes about capital punishment are based on more than just retributive motives, and that correcting misconceptions related to its administration and other relevant factors reduces support for the death penalty.