Mock Jurors' Attributions and Attributional Processes in a Medical Malpractice Case: Examining the Influence of Plaintiff Weight, Juror Characteristics, and Deliberations
AuthorSicafuse, Lorie Lynn
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Research suggests that most Americans harbor weight-related prejudices, which can translate into discrimination against the obese across a variety of contexts. Yet, little is known about how anti-fat bias may influence juror decisions in cases involving an obese trial participant. This study examined the main and interactive effects of plaintiff weight, deliberations, and individual differences on jurors’ decisions in a medical malpractice case. The Culpable Control Model (CCM) was used to ground the research and to help illuminate the attributional processes underlying mock jurors’ decisions.College student mock jurors were presented with a photograph of either a normal weight or obese plaintiff and assigned to non-deliberating or deliberating conditions. After reading the case summary, non-deliberating jurors rendered case judgments independently and responded to a series of items designed to measure attributional processes in accordance with the CCM. Deliberating jurors also reviewed the case summary independently but then discussed the case in small groups; each group rendered case judgments as a jury. Following deliberations, jury group members were instructed to provide independent, “individual level” responses to the same series of items completed by the non-deliberating jurors. Several individual differences were assessed in the total sample, including belief in a just world (BJW), belief in the protestant work ethic (BPWE), and anti-fat attitudes (AFAs).Results revealed no main effects of plaintiff weight on case-related judgments or on any of the measures of attributional processes. However, deliberations and several individual difference variables moderated the effects of plaintiff weight on the dependent variables. Contrary to expectations, deliberations appeared to exacerbate rather than attenuate the effects of anti-fat bias on jurors’ decisions. Compared to non-deliberating jurors, deliberating jurors were more likely to find the obese plaintiff responsible for the negative medical outcome and awarded fewer non-economic damages to the obese plaintiff. Numerous individual differences variables moderated the effects of plaintiff weight on the dependent variables, but BJW was the strongest, most consistent moderator. As expected, those with stronger just world beliefs were less likely to find the defendant liable and were overall more punitive toward the obese plaintiff than those with weaker beliefs. Analyses further indicated that jurors’ attributional processes were consistent with those proposed by the CCM, such that their initial reactions to the case and the plaintiff and defendant influenced their interpretation of attributional information and criteria, which in turn influenced their case decisions. Significant findings not directly tied to formally advanced hypotheses also emerged. Overall, deliberating jurors were more lenient toward the defendant than non-deliberating jurors. In addition, analyses revealed several main effects of individual difference variables on case judgments and attributional processes.This research is limited in terms of verisimilitude and generalizability; yet, it also yields many significant findings that have thus far been undocumented in published studies. Both the contributions and limitations of this study illuminate exciting directions for future research. In particular, more research is needed to clarify how anti-fat bias may affect jurors’ in particular circumstances, how civil jurors’ decisions may be impacted by deliberations and individual differences more generally, and how the CCM can best be used to help understand decision-making in applied contexts.