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Empathy and Biased Assimilation of Testimonies in Cases of Alleged Rape

NCJ Number
Law and Human Behavior Volume: 13 Issue: 4 Dated: (December 1989) Pages: 343-355
R L Wiener; A R Feldman Wiener; T Grisso
Date Published
13 pages
The relationship between empathy for rape victims and evaluations of the guilt of a rape trial defendant was examined using data gathered from volunteer citizens recruited through media advertisements in the greater St. Louis area.
The participants were 29 males and 29 females who ranged from 21 to 61 years of age and were mostly employed. Their empathy was defined as a score on the Rape Empathy Scale (RES) and whether or not they had previous experience with a rape victim. They read 24 summaries of testimony from an actual rape trial and answered questions following each summary. Findings showed that the RES was not related to participants' attributions, but personal knowledge of rape victims was predictive. All participants increased their attributions of responsibility after reviewing the complainant's initial testimony. The ratings of those who were acquainted with a rape victim remained elevated across all judgments, while those unacquainted with a victim lowered their attributions. At the end of the transcripts those acquainted with a victim were more likely to find the defendant guilty of forcible rape. Results indicate two types of empathic processes, one of which appears to be involved in biased assimilation of trial evidence. Tables, figure, footnotes, and 23 references. (Author abstract modified)


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