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Emotions in the courtroom: How do empathy, sympathy, and personal distress influence juror judgement?

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posted on 2023-11-03, 05:33 authored by Linda Weber
This research examined the psychosocial-cognitive variables involved in decision making in the context of a murder trial. Schema Theory and the Elaboration Likelihood Model provided the theoretical bases from which three studies were conducted to investigate the influence of justice and vengeance motives, emotions, and factual and emotive information, upon juror judgement. Study 1 of this research involved the development of the ESPI Scale to measure the differing levels of affect and cognition hypothesised to underpin each of the emotion constructs (i.e., empathy, sympathy, personal distress, and indifference). Study 2 subjected the data from 203 respondents to exploratory factor analysis. The data from a further 202 respondents was utilised in confirmatory factor analysis which was conducted via structural equation modelling (SEM). In Study 3, data from 498 respondents were utilised to test the adequacy of two structural path models: the Schema model and an alternative model labelled Posner’s model. The direct and indirect relationships between the variables of these two models were assessed utilising SEM. The Schema model tested the hypothesis that justice and vengeance motives should be directly and indirectly associated with the judgement rendered through (1) the four emotions, and (2) emotive and factual information. Posner’s model also predicted that justice and vengeance motives should have direct and indirect associations with the judgement rendered through (1) emotive and factual information, and (2) the four emotions. In addition to investigating the appropriate sequential ordering of the variables involved in decision making, this research assessed the impact of the presentation of black and white photographs and colour photographs on the two decision-making processes. The results indicated that while both structural models were adequate in representing the decisionmaking process, Posner’s model was a better representation for the colour photographs, while decision-making via the Schema model was similar for both photographs modes. The implications of the study’s findings for theory and research, and for the legal process are discussed.


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Central Queensland University


Central Queensland University

Place of Publication

Rockhampton, Qld.

Open Access

  • Yes

External Author Affiliations

Faculty of Sciences, Engineering and Health;

Era Eligible

  • No


Associate Professor Lynne ForsterLee ; Associate Professor Robert Ho ; Dr. Robert ForsterLee

Thesis Type

  • Doctoral Thesis

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