Rulseh, Allison (2015-12). Effects of Boldness and Disinhibition on Perceptions of a White-Collar Criminal Defendant. Master's Thesis.
Despite the profound impact and pervasiveness of white-collar crime, few studies have assessed how white-collar criminals' personality affects juror perceptions of defendants. The current study aimed to provide insight regarding layperson perceptions of white-collar criminal defendants by examining how those views are impacted by manipulating the presentation of the defendant's personality traits (i.e., boldness and disinhibition). Although typically regarded as an adaptive and socially desirable trait, it was hypothesized that boldness would be perceived negatively within the context of deviant behavior (i.e., white-collar crimes). To examine these issues, participants (330 community members, recruited via Amazon's Mechanical Turk website) read a short vignette about a white-collar criminal defendant, in which the defendant's degree of boldness and disinhibition was manipulated, then provided sentence recommendations and rated the defendant's level of psychopathy and other negative attributes. As hypothesized, manipulating boldness and disinhibition impacted negative views toward the defendant with the boldness manipulation more consistently predicting higher psychopathy, "evil," and meanness ratings. Surprisingly, neither manipulation predicted more punitive sentence recommendations, but higher psychopathy and "evil" ratings did correlate with more punitive sentence recommendations. The present results are consistent with prior research on juror perceptions within the context of violent crime, such that perceiving the defendant as more psychopathic correlated with more punitive views. These findings also suggest that the presence of personality traits that typically are seen as advantageous or socially desirable can be perceived as more dysfunctional when they occur in the context of criminal behavior.