Effects of prohibitive and informative judicial instructions on jury decision making.

Shaw, J. I., & Skolnick, P. (1995). Effects of prohibitive and informative judicial instructions on jury decision making. Social Behavior and Personality, 23, 319-326.

A study was conducted to determine the extent to which jurors follow judicial instructions. Based upon Brehm’s (1966) theory of psychological reactance, it was hypothesized that prohibitive judicial instructions will not be adhered to as well as similar instructions formulated in a more informative tone. The reactive effects of prohibitive instructions were predicted to be exaggerated when an irrelevant defendant characteristic such as race was an issue. Three hundred and sixteen mock jurors read one of four versions of a hypothetical criminal case varying the type of instructions (prohibitive or informative) and race of defendant (white or black) and rendered both individual judgments and jury verdicts on the case. Results confirmed that juries reacted against prohibitive instructions but more closely followed informative instructions. It was also found that individual jurors were harsher toward white than black defendants, however, group discussion effectively eliminated this reverse racism bias.

Juries given strongly worded (“prohibitive”) instruction to ignore defendant demographic information convicted more than juries receiving less strident
(“informative”) instruction. Pre deliberation bias against White defendant eliminated by deliberation; no effect of defendant race on jury verdicts.

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