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Social Justice Research

, Volume 12, Issue 4, pp 409–419 | Cite as

Perceptual Biases and Mock Juror Decision Making: Minority Religions in Court

  • Jeffrey E. Pfeifer
Article

Abstract

This study builds on earlier research results showing that mock jurors demonstrate strong anti-cult oriented biases in verdicts related to cases involving minority religions (sometimes called “cults”). Specifically, this study investigates the hypothesis that mock juror verdicts will be effected by evidence of satanic cult involvement due to the negative perceptions held by individuals regarding the perceived threat of the satanic movement. It is argued that the mere mention of satanism will lead mock jurors to use negative perceptions in their decision making and subsequently rate defendants differentially depending on their level of satanic cult involvement. To test this hypothesis, subjects were asked to read a trial transcript of a child abuse or a homicide case. Depending on the condition, subjects were informed that the defendant was either allegedly involved in a satanic cult, admittedly involved in a satanic cult, or no mention of satanism was made. Finally, some subjects were also supplied with jury instructions to guide their decision making in ways that might alleviate the impact of allegations of satanic involvement. All subjects were then asked to rate the guilt of the defendant as well as the confidence they had in their verdict. Results indicate that ratings of guilt are significantly affected by the mention of satanic cult involvement, regardless of whether it is alleged or admitted. Implications of these findings are discussed.

cults satanism new religions courts mock juries 

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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeffrey E. Pfeifer
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of ReginaReginaCanada
  2. 2.Centre for Police ResearchEdith Cowan UniversityCanada

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