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Influence of Knowledge on Reasons for Death Penalty Opinions: An Experimental Test

NCJ Number
Justice Quarterly Volume: 7 Issue: 1 Dated: (March 1990) Pages: 175-188
R M Bohm; L J Clark; A F Aveni
Date Published
14 pages
Despite more than 50 years of scientific polling and a substantial body of research, an understanding of American opinion on the death penalty remains problematic.
This study sheds light on the subject by asking what influence knowledge has on reasons that people give for their opinions. The subjects of the study were 71 undergraduate students who took a course titled "An Examination of the Death Penalty in America." Results showed that participation in the class did not affect significantly five of six reasons for opinions regarding the death penalty (general deterrence, retribution, incapacitation, religious reasons, and support for law enforcement). Administrative considerations were the only reason influenced significantly by participation in the class. It appears that for many people, opinions regarding the death penalty do not change in light of reasoned persuasion. Instead, reasoned persuasion seems to polarize people further on this issue and to contribute to the entrenchment of generally uninformed opinions. 2 tables, 12 references, legal case listing, and appendix on items referenced. (Author abstract modified)