Emotional Empathy in a Courtroom Simulation: A Person-Situation Interaction1


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    The authors wish to thank Robert Helmreich, John Thibaut, and Laurens Walker for their assistance in designing the experiments, and William Underwood and Ira Hecht for their suggestions in preparing the manuscript. The authors are indebted to David Smith, Lance Tunick, Wade Wells, and Arvin Van Zante for their excellent performances in the trial simulation sessions in Experiment I, and to David Kazar and Rex Wright for their careful performances as defendant and prosecutor in Experiment II.


A pair of experiments were conducted using a simulated courtroom trial of a criminal case. In Experiment I subject-jurors were asked by defense counsel either to imagine themselves as the defendant (empathy-inducing appeal) or to pay close attention to evidence (nonempathy appeal). Later the judge delivered only general instructions or, in addition, charged jurors to give consideration only to the facts presented. When there was no Fact-focused judge's charge, juror-subjects who heard the empathy-inducing appeal rated the defendant's actions as more lawful and attributed less of the cause for the incident to his personality than did their counterparts in the nonempathy condition. Experiment II included individual differences in the tendency to empathize as an additional mediating variable. The original pattern of effects found for the manipulated variables in Experiment I appeared again, but were overshadowed by the stronger effects of the individual difference variable and of subject sex. Subject-jurors who scored high on the empathy individual difference measure rated the defendant less guilty, assigned less cause to him, and showed corresponding mood shifts when they heard the empathy-inducing appeal. In addition, male subjects empathized more strongly with the male defendant and viewed him more favorably.