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Abstract

Although a considerable amount of research has been conducted examining the validity of psychopathy as a psychological construct, relatively few studies have focused on the effects of using this disorder in “real-world” settings to influence the attitudes of laypersons who are making life-altering decisions about offenders. This study attempted to replicate and extend earlier findings (Guy & Edens, 2003) suggesting that there are gender differences in the impact of expert testimony regarding psychopathy. A sample of 599 undergraduates reviewed case facts regarding a hypothetical Sexually Violent Predator trial in which the type of risk assessment testimony provided (clinical opinion, actuarial scale, psychopathy evaluation) and the age of the victims (adult versus child) were manipulated. Consistent with prior research, despite overall high rates of support for commitment in the adult victim condition, men were less prone than women to support civil commitment when the defendant was described as “a psychopath” (62.5 versus 86.5%). No such gender differences were noted in the clinical opinion or actuarial conditions. When the victims were identified as children, type of testimony had no impact because support for commitment was almost unilateral. Finally, ratings of how psychopathic the defendant was perceived to be (regardless of the testimony provided) were significantly associated with support for commitment across most conditions. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.