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Testing the Marshall Hypothesis and its Antithesis: The Effect of Biased Information on Death-Penalty Opinion

NCJ Number
Criminal Justice Studies: A Critical Journal of Crime, Law and Society Volume: 23 Issue: 1 Dated: March 2010 Pages: 65-83
Deniese Kennedy-Kollar; Evan J. Mandery
Date Published
March 2010
19 pages
This study tested the Marshall Hypothesis without pre-supposing an objective set of facts, and took equal interest in the effect of information on both death penalty proponents and opponents.
In his concurring opinion in Furman v. Georgia (408 U.S. 238, 1972), Justice Thurgood Marshall hypothesized that information about the administration and effects of the death penalty would cause those who support capital punishment to reject it as unfair and ineffective. Prior studies, which have found mixed support for the 'Marshall Hypothesis,' have all presumed an objective set of facts about the death penalty exists, and have all focused exclusively on the effect of these facts on death-penalty proponents. No prior study has examined the effect of pro-death-penalty information on death-penalty opponents. Researchers presented 187 undergraduates with information that either supported or opposed the death penalty, but not both. Paired sample t-tests compared pre- and post-test levels of support and found significant decreases in opposition among those opposed to capital punishment at the outset, but no significant change among those who favored capital punishment. This data supports the antithesis of the Marshall Hypothesis. Tables, notes, and references (Published Abstract)