The application of Federal and Texas State sentence ranges in a Consider -the -Opposite paradigm: Can the magnitude of bias in sentencing decisions be reduced?

Jessica Leigh Wildermuth, University of Texas at El Paso

Abstract

Sentencing decisions are usually made in situations of judgmental uncertainty because they are typically complex and make use of inherently ambiguous information (Saks & Kidd, 1980). Research on underlying judgment processes has demonstrated that anchors provide a basis for simplifying judgments that involve uncertainty (Higgins, 1996; Tversky & Kahneman, 1974). To investigate sentencing disparities that occur for identical crimes, it is also essential to understand the psychological mechanisms that underlie decision making. The Selective Accessibility Model (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974) states that, "people construct a mental mode that selectively increases the accessibility of anchor-consistent information" (p.1125). In turn, because this information is now more accessible, it is used when making a subsequent judgment such as a sentencing decision for an offender. It has also been demonstrated that "considering the opposite" (Lord, Lepper, & Preston, 1984), that is, taking into account evidence that is inconsistent with one's initial beliefs, is an effective strategy to improve human judgment by reducing overconfidence in the correctness of a chosen answer. The proposed research tested the Selective Accessibility Model and extended it by exploring sentencing decisions made when defendants are convicted of the same crime, while varying the extremity of the anchor and the ability to generate anchor consistent or inconsistent knowledge. Because of the greater variability in the Texas sentence range, it was hypothesized that individuals asked to sentence within this range would give more punitive sentences than participants asked to sentence within a Federal range. It was also hypothesized that anchoring effects would be reduced or eliminated by having participants generate information that argued against the recommended sentence. As predicted, participants who sentenced within the Texas State range gave more punitive sentences than participants who sentenced within the Federal range. Results also indicated that the Selective Accessibility Model and the Consider-the-Opposite strategy were partially supported in that generating any information in support or refutation of the sentence anchor reduced anchoring effects.^

Subject Area

Sociology, Criminology and Penology|Psychology, Cognitive

Recommended Citation

Wildermuth, Jessica Leigh, "The application of Federal and Texas State sentence ranges in a Consider -the -Opposite paradigm: Can the magnitude of bias in sentencing decisions be reduced?" (2008). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI3341655.
http://digitalcommons.utep.edu/dissertations/AAI3341655

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