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Social cognitive explanations for juror’s reactions to child witness’ use of trial aids
AdvisorMiller, Monica K
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The use of facility dogs as a trial aid for child victims is becoming increasingly popular, with over 40 states allowing the use of therapy dogs in courtrooms. Although facility dogs are becoming a more common courtroom tool, little research exists that examines the effects of the presence of facility dogs during testimony on jurors’ perceptions. This project addressed some of the potential consequences of facility dog use on juror perceptions and consisted of two studies. Study 1 used individual interviews to assess lay beliefs and expectancies about people who use dogs as aids in public spaces, especially during a trial. Study 2 experimentally manipulated the lay beliefs espoused in Study 1 by varying trial aid usage and witness demeanor. This project had five goals. The first goal was to evaluate what laypeople think about the use of dogs as service animals in public spaces, especially courtrooms, as well as how dogs compare to other trial aids (Study 1). Results indicate that, although not all people enjoy dogs, most people see dogs as potentially physically (i.e., service dog) and emotionally supportive (e.g., ESA, facility dog) beings. No participants believed that dogs should be unilaterally kept from public spaces. The second goal was to assess anticipated perceptions (Study 1) and actual perceptions of witnesses who use facility dogs or other trial aids in courtrooms after witnessing a simulated trial (Study 2). Participants in Study 1 believed jurors would mainly have neutral or positive impressions of a witness using a stuffed animal or facility dog as a trial aid; participants in Study 2 demonstrated positive perceptions of the witness regardless of experimental manipulations. The third goal was to examine the effects of jurors’ emotional expectancies and witness’s emotional expression on perceptions of the witness and defendant (Study 2). Witness emotional expression did not directly affect perceptions of the witness or defendant; however, witnesses with a neutral demeanor were associated with slightly greater expectancy violation, which in turn led to less positive perceptions of the witness. The fourth goal was to assess the role of juror felt emotion on perceptions of the witness or defendant (Study 2). Results indicate that increases in state anger were associated with more positive perceptions of the witness and more negative perceptions of the defendant; no other state emotion affected perceptions. The fifth and final goal of this study was to evaluate the role of individual differences on juror perceptions (Study 2). Results indicate that greater rape myth acceptance (RMA) is related to more negative perceptions of the witness and more positive perceptions of the defendant, whereas trait empathy was associated with more positive perceptions of the witness and more negative perceptions of the defendant. Implications for this research include better understanding the effects of facility dog use on juror perceptions and verdicts. Study results can be used to inform policy decisions regarding the acceptance of facility dogs in courtrooms.