Psychopathic Traits Predict Attitudes Toward a Juvenile Capital Murderer

John F. Edens*, Laura S. Guy, Krissie Fernandez

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


The current study manipulated the presence/absence of psychopathic traits and the ethnicity (Black/White) of a juvenile capital murderer to examine their impact on layperson attitudes regarding what types of legal sanction were appropriate. Participants (N = 360) reviewed a newspaper article concerning a death row inmate who was appealing his sentence primarily based on the fact that he committed the crime when he was 16 years of age. Compared to those in the control condition, those who read a scenario in which the defendant had been described at trial as exhibiting psychopathic traits (e.g. remorselessness, pathological lying) were significantly more likely to support a death sentence and less likely to believe he should receive any treatment in prison. Moreover, participant ratings of the extent to which they believed the defendant exhibited prototypically psychopathic traits (regardless of whether they were in the psychopathy or control condition) also significantly predicted these criterion measures. Ethnic status was relatively less influential, although participants were somewhat more punitive towards a Black defendant than a White defendant when considering the relevance of possible mitigating factors (e.g. history of sexual abuse).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)807-828
Number of pages22
JournalBehavioral Sciences and the Law
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Law


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