Applying a Social Cognitive Model of Information Use to Judicial Decision-Making: An Analysis of 27,000 Felony Offenders Sentenced in Nevada: 2007-2009
AuthorSpringer, Victoria Anne
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Based on the framework of the heuristic-systematic model of information processing (HSM, Chaiken, Liberman, & Eagly, 1989), this research examined patterns of information use in felony sentencing to assess the potential use of extra-legal information as heuristics in judicial decision making. The use of extra-legal information was contrasted with the importance placed on legally relevant information, which was proposed as a non-heuristic source of information. Lastly, this dissertation explored individual differences in judges as legal decision-makers. The results suggest that judges thoughtfully consider a wide variety of offender information during felony sentencing. The consideration of legally relevant information did not diminish the influence of extra-legal (social) information on maximum length of sentences. This suggests that judges are processing information in a thorough, systematic fashion rather than relying on cognitive shortcuts or rules of thumb (heuristics).Judges also utilized both legal and extra-legal information when determining sentence disposition (prison vs. probation). However, the results were mixed with regard to the impact of legal factors on the use of extra-legal information. This was interpreted as evidence that both heuristic and systematic processing may be occurring (parallel processing). This conclusion was supported by the significant interaction effects that were observed between legal and extra-legal factors for models examining sentence length and sentence disposition. This supports the characterization of extra-legal (social) information as heuristics. However, judges do not exclusively rely on this information during felony sentencing. Instead, they appear to utilize a wealth of information and engage in parallel processing. This dissertation was supported by a National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant from the Law and Social Sciences (LSS) program (Award #: SES-1123351).