Jury Panel Member Perceptions of Interpersonal-Affective Traits of Psychopathy Predict Support for Execution in a Capital Murder Trial Simulation


Correspondence to: John F. Edens, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843, U.S.A. E-mail: johnedens@tamu.edu


Recent research with college undergraduate mock jurors suggests that how psychopathic they perceive a criminal defendant to be is a powerful predictor of whether they will support a death verdict in simulated capital murder trials. Perceived affective and interpersonal traits of psychopathy are especially predictive of support for capital punishment, with perceived remorselessness explaining a disproportionate amount of variance in these attitudes. The present study attempted to extend these findings with a more representative sample of community members called for jury duty (N = 304). Jurors reviewed a case vignette based on an actual capital murder trial, provided sentencing verdicts, and rated the defendant on several characteristics historically associated with the construct of psychopathy. Consistent with prior findings, remorselessness predicted death verdicts, as did the affective and interpersonal features of psychopathy – though the latter effect was more pronounced among jurors who were Caucasian and/or who described their political beliefs as moderate rather than conservative or liberal. Results are discussed in terms of the potentially stigmatizing effects of psychopathy evidence in capital cases. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.