Trials and Tribulations: Psychopathic Traits, Emotion, and Decision-Making in an Ambiguous Case of Sexual Assault


Judgments of criminal culpability often are influenced by factors unrelated to case content, such as the emotionality of the victim and the personality of the judge. In the current study, we investigated the relationship between psychopathic traits (high/low) and information processing modes (experiential vs. rational) in a group of mock jurors (N = 383) asked to judge a “he said, she said” ambiguous case of sexual assault that varied according to both victim and defendant emotionality (high/low). The results demonstrated that victim and defendant emotionality was critical in determining case outcomes, which interacted with the processing style that participants utilized more. Specifically, experiential processors were more punitive towards the defendant when the defendant displayed low levels of emotion relative to high emotionality, whereas rational processors were slightly more punitive when high levels of emotion were being displayed. Psychopathic traits had no influence on ratings of veracity/credibility of the victim and defendant, or on overall guilt determinations and severity of sentencing. However, participants high in psychopathic traits believed that the alleged victim was making a false allegation more often when she was less emotional, and they were less punitive towards the false allegation than individuals low in psychopathic traits. These findings have important implications concerning how cases of sexual assault are interpreted in court, and extra-legal factors that may alter case outcomes.

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Peace, K. & Valois, R. (2014). Trials and Tribulations: Psychopathic Traits, Emotion, and Decision-Making in an Ambiguous Case of Sexual Assault. Psychology, 5, 1239-1253. doi: 10.4236/psych.2014.510136.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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