The Effects of Differential Exposure to Gruesome Photographs on Mock Jurors' Emotions & Legal Judgments

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In a trial, jurors are asked to set aside their emotions and make judgments based solely on evidence. Research suggests jurors are not always capable of this, particularly when exposed to gruesome photographic evidence. However, previous research has not looked

In a trial, jurors are asked to set aside their emotions and make judgments based solely on evidence. Research suggests jurors are not always capable of this, particularly when exposed to gruesome photographic evidence. However, previous research has not looked at the potentially moderating effect of when and for how long jurors are exposed to emotionally disturbing photographs, nor how many photographs they see. In two experiments I tested the impact of the timing of and extent of exposure to gruesome photographs on jurors’ emotions, verdicts, and punishment recommendations. In Study 1, I investigated the effect of timing and exposure duration to a single gruesome photograph of a victim in a murder case (no exposure, brief early exposure, brief late exposure, and prolonged exposure) on mock jurors’ emotions and case judgments. Prolonged exposure (relative to no or brief exposure, regardless of timing) increased disgust, which in turn was associated with harsher punishment. Contrary to previous research, the photograph manipulation did not influence verdicts. The results were mixed and inconclusive regarding brief early versus late exposure. In Study 2, I compared repeatedly viewing a single gruesome photograph to viewing a set of four similar, but unique gruesome photographs—holding the exposure time constant—to assess the impact of quantity of photos on jurors’ emotions and case judgments. Viewing multiple gruesome photos (relative to no photos) led to increase in guilty verdicts through increased disgust, replicating previous research. Viewing a single gruesome photo (relative to no photo) led to increase in guilty verdicts through disgust, differing from Study 1 findings. Viewing multiple gruesome photos and a single gruesome photo led to more disgust, compared to viewing no photo. However, differing from Study 1, gruesome photographs did not lead to an increase in punishment recommendations. There were no significant differences between exposure to a single or multiple gruesome photos on disgust, verdicts, or punishments. Overall, greater exposure to gruesome evidence led to increased disgust and punitiveness, relative to those with less exposure. However, jurors with greater exposure to the same or different photographs did not differ in reported emotions, verdicts, or punitiveness.