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Tough-Mindedness and Fair Play: Personality Traits as Predictors of Attitudes Toward the Death Penalty--An Exploratory Gendered Study

NCJ Number
Punishment & Society Volume: 8 Issue: 2 Dated: April 2006 Pages: 203-222
Monica Robbers
Date Published
April 2006
20 pages
Using a nonprobability sample of students in psychology and social studies classes of two private, liberal arts, 4-year colleges, this study examined the effects of the five-factor model of personality traits as well as gender on attitudes toward the death penalty.
Findings show that both extraversion and neuroticism were linked to pro-death-penalty attitudes. This effect held across genders. Conscientiousness was also associated with pro-death-penalty attitudes. Openness to experience and agreeableness were both able to predict less favorable attitudes toward the death penalty. Among males, openness was a significant predictor of anti-death-penalty attitudes, but this was not true for females; the opposite was true for conscientiousness. Overall, the study provides empirical evidence that personality traits can predict attitudes toward the death penalty, and the effect of these traits will differ by gender. If future studies confirm these findings, jury consultants could evaluate potential jury members' personality traits by using selected questions, such as the short form of the five-factor model used in this study. A total of 272 questionnaires were completed. The five-factor model of personality (Costa and McCrae, 1992) was used to measure extroversion, neuroticism, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Composite scores were calculated for each personality trait. Attitudes toward the death penalty were measured with a 10-item scale developed by Lowenthal (2002). Control variables were gender, race, age, political affiliation, religious affiliation, and degree of religiosity. To assess the nature of the relationships between the main study variables, Pearson's zero order correlations and Spearman's rho correlations were run where appropriate. 4 tables, 13 notes, and 54 references