Date of Award

8-9-2010

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Criminology

First Advisor

Jamie S. Martin, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Randy L. Martin, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Jennifer J. Roberts, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Susan T. Zimny, Ph.D.

Abstract

This experimental study examines the effects of various types of information about the death penalty on the attitudes of 362 undergraduate students at a university in the Northeast. This study attempts to expand upon previous research that has examined the malleability of student death penalty attitudes and, specifically, focuses on isolating the type of information most important to changing death penalty attitudes and examines the role that retributiveness and attitude strength may play in this relationship. Using a stratified cluster sampling procedure, self-administered pre- and post-tests were distributed to criminology and non-criminology students during February and March 2010. Vignettes, which included various types of information about the death penalty, were employed as an experimental stimulus. The results from this study indicate that students who received information about socioeconomic discrimination in application of the death penalty and the high cost of the punishment were the most likely to exhibit change in their death penalty attitudes at post-test. Students who received information about wrongful capital convictions, racial discrimination in application of the death penalty, and the lack of a general deterrent impact of the punishment, as well as those who received information about all five of the death penalty factors, did not exhibit statistically significant change in their attitudes at post-test. However, the results also indicate that the type of information students received did not impact the degree of change in death penalty attitude between pre- and post-test. Likewise, it was found that the strength of a student’s death penalty attitude, as well as their level of retributiveness, did not explain the variance in death penalty attitude between pre- and post-test.

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