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Savon, Alexander Able.
The effect of knowledge gain on capital punishment
h [electronic resource] :
b a partial test of the marshall hypothesis /
by Alexander Able Savon.
[Tampa, Fla.] :
University of South Florida,
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2005.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
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Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 50 pages.
ABSTRACT: Justice Thurgood Marshall proposed a three-pronged postulate in his dissent in1972 in the Furman v. Georgia (408 U.S. 238) Supreme Court case. The Americanpublic is generally uninformed when it comes to the death penalty, and given informationa great mass of citizens would be against it, unless their underlying beliefs were rootedin retribution (Furman v. Georgia, p. 363). These statements subsequently came to beknown as the Marshall Hypothesis, and were deemed testable by researchers.This study examines the influence on death penalty opinion as a consequence ofparticipating in a college class on the death penalty. Students in the class, who were either criminology majors or minors, were asked to take part in a questionnaire regardingtheir attitudes toward capital punishment at the beginning and at the end of the semester.Over the course of the class, students took part in a pre and post-test designed to measuretheir knowledge of the death penalty.
Adviser: John K. Cochran, Ph.D.
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
The Effect Of Knowledge Gain On Capital Punishment: A Partial Test Of The Marshall Hypothesis by Alexander Abel Savon A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of Criminology College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida Major Professor: John K. Cochran, Ph.D. Date of Approval: July 11, 2005 Keywords: marshall hypothesis, capital puni shment, public opinion, knowledge gain, death penalty Copyright 2005 Alexander Abel Savon
Dedication I would like to thank my parents, Ab el and Karin Savon, for their love and support over the years. They instilled in me the importance of furthering my education, and I could tell I was getting smarter when they asked me for help on the crossword puzzle. To my sister, A.J., who IÂ’ve watche d grow into an amazing person with the best sense of humor of anyone I know. Your jokes and witty bril liance gave me the inspiration I needed to get through the stress and hard times. Finally, I would like to dedicate this thesis to my late grandfather, Guenther Daudel, who unknowingly inspired me to constantly better myself by his example. I am eternally grateful.
Acknowledgments I am indebted to a number of people for their help, knowledge and support throughout this entire process. First I would like to thank my thesis chair, Dr. John K. Cochran, for the idea, the insight, and the c ountless hours mentoring which enabled this project to come to fruition. I would also like to acknowledge my committee members, Dr. M. Dwayne Smith, for pointing me in the right direction, and Dr. Thomas Mieczkowski, for holding me to higher standards. I would also like to than k a special group of people who provided me with the occasional much needed kick in the butt: Ta ra Horn, Scott Toner, Joseph Digregorio, Joseph Pinkos, Jessica Spencer, Grace Pasden, Brian Johnson and Abigail Dufretay (3.9 pounds of support). I want to recognize my friend James Kuzin, who became my Grand Pooba of the formatting process. Finally, I want to thank Kitty Patneaude for her friendship, great advice, a nd for writing my letter of recommendation to get into Graduate School.
i Table of Contents List of Tables ii List of Figures iii Abstract iv Chapter One Introduction 1 Cruel and Unusual Punishment 1 Evolving Standards of Decency 3 Furman v. Georgia 3 Public Opinion 5 The Marshall Hypothesis 7 Chapter Two Literature Review 9 Exposure to Information 10 Biased Assimilation 12 College Classroom as a Stimulus 12 The Role of Innocence 14 Proposed Research 15 Chapter Three Methodology 18 Research Design 20 Measures 22 Chapter Four Results 24 Chapter Five Summary and Conclusions 36 Key Findings 37 Future Research 38 References 40
ii List of Tables Table 1 PearsonÂ’s Zero-Order Product Moment Correlation between Knowledge Gains and Change in Death Penalty Support 24 Table 2 PearsonÂ’s Zero-Order Product Moment Correlation between Knowledge Gains and Change in Truth Acceptance 25 Table 3 PearsonÂ’s Zero-Order Product Moment Correlation between Knowledge Gains and Change in Myth Holding 26 Table 4 Zero-Order Product Moment Correlation between Truth Acceptance and Change in Myth Holding 27 Table 5 PearsonÂ’s Zero-Order Product Moment Correlation between Truth Acceptance and Change in Death Penalty Support 28 Table 6 PearsonÂ’s Zero-Order Product Moment Correlation between Myth Holding and Change in Death Penalty Support 28 Table 7 A Profile Analysis of People with The Strongest Knowledge Gains: Relative Gain Greater than or Equal to .80 31 Table 8 A Profile Analysis of Most Resistant Myth Holders: Percent of Change Less than or Equal to .20 33
iii List of Figures Figure 1 An Example of Relative Gains 22 Figure 2 Direct and Indi rect Effects of Knowledge Gains on Decreased Support for Capital Punishment 29
iv The Effect Of Knowledge Gain On Capital Punishment: A Partial Test Of The Marshall Hypothesis Alexander Abel Savon ABSTRACT Justice Thurgood Marshall proposed a threepronged postulate in his dissent in 1972 in the Furman v. Georgia (408 U.S. 238) Supreme Court case. The American public is generally uninformed when it comes to the death penalty, and given information a Â“great mass of citizensÂ” would be against it, unless their underlying beliefs were rooted in retribution ( Furman v. Georgia p. 363). These statements subsequently came to be known as the Marshall Hypothesis, and we re deemed testable by researchers. This study examines the influence on d eath penalty opinion as a consequence of participating in a college cl ass on the death penalty. Stude nts in the class, who were either criminology majors or minors, were aske d to take part in a questionnaire regarding their attitudes toward capital puni shment at the beginning and at the end of the semester. Over the course of the class, students took pa rt in a pre and post-test designed to measure their knowledge of the death penalty. Th is study correlated th e amount of knowledge gained by each student with their respective death penalty attitudes. Results indicated that many in the cla ss had little knowledge of the practice, application, and corollary eff ects of capital punishment. Those students who made the greatest amount of knowledge gains also re ported a reduction in support for capital punishment. The acceptance of death penalty truths was not found to be related to a
v reduction in death penalty support. Further an alysis, however, showed that those students who accepted these death penalty Â“truthsÂ” were also able to disregard death penalty Â“myths.Â” The present study concludes that support for the death penalty is directly reduced through increased knowledge gain, and indirectly reduced through truth acceptance as a function of death penalty Â“mythÂ” abandonment.
1 Chapter One Introduction American society is one consisting of a rich diversity of ra ces, ethnic groups, religions, strongly held beliefs, and opinions Our First Amendment rights allow us the privilege of expressing these opinions without the threat of governmental retribution. The pluralism inherent to Am erican culture enables a broa d diversity of thought, leading Americans to express opinions on a myriad of culturally salient topics. This becomes important in the milieu of a democratic society, where public opinion helps shape law and social policy. Perhaps one of our most pervasive issues is the topic of capital punishment, which is the cause of much contro versy and heated debate in this country. The debate focuses on our Eighth Amendm ent protection agains t cruel and unusual punishment, and what factors influence the le gality of its application. Â“Cruel and unusual,Â” written in the language of the c onstitution, does not contribute a concrete meaning or a distinctive, actionable interpreta tion. The abstract nature of this wording allows the Constitution to be inherently flexible amidst rapidly changing societal and cultural norms. Alternatively, these open-e nded concepts are also a weakness because their ambiguity leads to imprecisi on and multiple interpretations. Cruel and unusual punishment falls under the umbrella of public morality and how it is defined by each successive generation. Public morality is the root of our legal system and is reflected in a number of ways. Two prevailing concepts that define our values and laws are the cons ensus and conflict model. Th e consensus model, being the more legislative, is a representative of the will of the majority which may sometimes
2 subjugate the minority. The conflict model is more in line with public opinion which has direct influence and is not a representation. Public morality can be gauged through public opinion, and can therefore become a de vice for interpreting the meaning of the Eighth Amendment with regard to capital punishment. In order to serve this function, the standard of public opinion must be raised beyond beliefs and attitudes not rooted in information germane to the death penalty. Re lying on the conflict model (public opinion) for constitutional interpretation has certain pol icy implications. Capital punishment can be found to be cruel and unusual if an informed public deems it so. What exactly constitutes cruel and unus ual punishment however, has historically been interpreted by the Supreme Court, which is the ultimate arbite r of the meaning of the Constitution. Initia lly, it made numerous efforts to im pose some type of analytical definition. In other words, it has been diffi cult for the Supreme Court to formulate legal opinions to be applied when a legislatively prescribed punishme nt is challenged as Â“cruel and unusualÂ” ( Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 1972, p. 238). In Wilkerson v. Utah (99 U.S. 130, 1878) the Court first looked at th e constitutionality of execution with the example of the firing squad. The Court decl ared that shooting wa s not cruel and unusual because it did not involve torture or unnece ssary cruelty. The decision also set a precedent that the punishment of death in its elf was not cruel. Justice Clifford, in delivering the opinion of the c ourt, referring to Blackstone stated: Â“Punishments are cruel when they involve tortur e or a lingering death; but the punishment of death is not cruel within the meaning of that word as us ed in the constitution. It implies there is something inhuman and barbarous,--something mo re than the mere extinguishment of life (130 U.S. 135). The next form of execution sc rutinized by the courts was electrocution in
3 1890 in In re Kemmler (136 U.S. 436). The Court de cided that electrocution, although unusual, was not cruel because it did not involve Â“torture or lingeri ng death.Â” Death by electrocution fit the criteria of unusual at the time, but was not considered cruel. After the initial analytic approach, the courts pursued a normative stance in an effort to bring meaning to the eighth amen dment that was not drawn solely from the provisions of the Constitution. The Constitution was drafted so that the public morality, decency and fundamental values of the time provided its underlying basis. These values are always changing, and in that spirit, the c ourts attempted to expl ore these values in a series of cases beginning with Weems v. United States (217 U.S. 349, 1910). It was in Weems v. United States (1910, p. 378) when the Court decide d that the definition of cruel and unusual punishment was dynamic and changing Â“as public opinion becomes enlightened by a humane justice.Â” The de finition was furthe r elaborated in Trop v. Dulles (365 U.S. 86, 1958, p. 101) when the Court stat ed the idea behind the Eighth Amendment was tantamount to the Â“evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.Â” These evolving standards are an abst ract concept that require tangible measurement if they are to be applied to Eight Amendment interpretation. In Furman v. Georgia (1972), the Â“evolving standardsÂ” were identified through several contemporary devices. The first evidence of changing sentiment found in Furman came in the form of decisions made by state le gislatures. The decisi on of some states to abolish or authorize capital punishment was viewed as an indicator as to whether the public accepts of rejects it. The trend to minimize or restrict the use of capital punishment by state legislatures in recent years showed that the public does not support it, according to Justice Marshall
4 ( Furman v. Georgia 1972). Justices Powell and Chief Justice Burger argued that evidence that society approves of capital punishment can be f ound in the number of states whose legislatures have kept capital punishment as an option ( Furman v. Georgia, pp. 438-39, 384-85) The problem with using the legisla tive record as a measure of public consensus lies in the fact that we live in a republic form of democracy in which individuals do not directly in fluence policy. The influence of the way the public feels about certain issues is said to be expr essed at the ballot box on Election Day. We empower our elected representa tives to make laws and deci sions based on the will of their constituency. State legislators, however may not operate in ideal form but may be subject to political and partisan pres sures which may skew direct objective representation. A second of indicator of these Â“evolving standardsÂ” can be found in the decisions juries and prosecutors make in capital cas es. Justice Brennan surmised that the infrequency with which juries employ the de ath penalty (approxima tely a hundred or so cases among thousands tried each year where the death penalty is available), is an accurate indicator of the public conscience a nd Â“demonstrates that our society seriously questions the appropriateness of this punishment todayÂ” ( Furman v. Georgia p. 299). Justice Powell, in his dissent, stated that the infrequency with wh ich the death penalty was imposed was not a rejection of it, but rather an illustration of the particular care needed to impose it (Furman v. Georgia, pp. 440-41). A flaw in the reliance on prosecutorial and jury practices may be thei r sensitivity to outside influence. A highly publicized trial may lead pros ecutors to push for the death penalty in capital cases while certain jurors may be excluded from servic e if they are against capital punishment.
5 Therefore, both legislative records and prosecu torial and/or jury de cisions may be biased representations of the public sentiment. The third index of our evol ving standards can be found through opinion polls taken through surveys or other instruments. Public opinion, through polls taken, can be a flawed indicator of public sentiment but it is, nonetheless, arguably the most accu rate. Polling the gene ral public is the only measurement that is a direct representation of the will of the people and more in line with the conflict model. Legislat ive record has an inherent lag which comes from the gap between public sentiment and when new laws are enacted, whereas public opinion polls are in real time. Public opinion also proffers unbiased data in that it is not affected by the party politics of legislators a nd prosecutors. Again, although juries may be a sample of the population, it is a relatively small sample th at can be influenced by such things as peremptory challenges. Albeit, the practice of polling the public is not perfect, but it has been improved upon over the years with the adve nt of new social research methodologies and advanced statistical techniques. Justice Marshall had great reserva tions about public opinion, and found it disturbing that public opinion po lls showed that a majority of the American population favored capital punishment. Justice Marsha ll believed that before public opinion can become a factor in deciding the constituti onality of the Eighth Amendment it must be held up to scrutiny and analysis. In Furman v. Georgia (1972), Justice Marshall stated that for public opinion to be held up to a cons titutional standard it had to be Â“informedÂ”. It was Justice MarshallÂ’s contention that the majority of the American public had little to no knowledge of the death penalty.
6 His second belief was that given informa tion about the death penalty Â“the great mass of citizens would conclude that the death penalty is immoral and therefore unconstitutionalÂ” ( Furman v. Georgia, p. 363) This belief goes to the reasons people give for their support of capital punishment, a nd how these reasons qualify the legitimacy of that support. Some reasons for suppor ting punishments in ge neral include their deterrent value, public safety issues, and thei r cost effectiveness. These general beliefs rooted in deterrence, incapacitation, and cost as support for capital punishment are valid reasons but the public may be uninformed about Â“trueÂ” effectiveness. Results are unambiguous that capital punishment doesnÂ’t deter (Bailey and Peterson, 1994), doesnÂ’t incapacitate more effectively than life sentences (Marquart and Sorensen, 1989), and is not a cost savings (Garey, 1985). Public per ception of the pervasiveness of rising crime rates and the preponderance of murders may also influence this opinion. If public were to become informed of these Â“truthsÂ” then acco rding to Marshall they would change their opinion. MarshallÂ’s third contention regarding the efficacy of public opinion involved the necessity to gauge the moral basis behind th at opinion. If the f oundation of the publicÂ’s feelings towards the death penalty relies on a belief in vengeance or Â“just dessertsÂ” then it has no place in modern jurisprudence ( Furman v. Georgia, p. 345). Marshall believed that information and knowledge will have little impact on death penalty opinion if retribution is the underlying factor of that opinion ( Furman v. Georgia p. 363). A belief in vengeance for a particular grievance or wrong-doing can be an automatic emotional reaction which runs counter to the logic and r easoning required for a measured response. Retribution and vengeance are themes that pe rmeate many facets of our popular culture
7 and perhaps even shape our beli efs and attitudes at the subc onscious level. Marshall deemed retribution as incompatible with de cent and civilized conduct and that it is precisely the baseness and harshness of re tribution that the Eight Amendment was designed to restrict ( Furman v. Georgia, p. 345). This three-pronged postulate consequently became known as the Marshall Hypothesis. What makes Justice MarshallÂ’s opinion in Furman unique is its ability to be tested em pirically. It is the testability of these hypotheses that have prompted researcher s and abolitionists of the death penalty to gauge its utility. In previous attempts to test the Ma rshall Hypotheses resear chers have exposed study participants to various amounts and type s of death penalty information. Initial studies obtained preand posttest measures of death penalty attitudes but provided only minimal death penalty information as the stimulus (Sarat & Vidmar, 1976; Vidmar & Dittenhoffer, 1981; Ellsworth & Ross, 1983). These studies failed to measure how much knowledge was gained and if it was retained at the time of the posttest. Subsequent studies maintained the pre and posttest stru cture of these early research designs and increased the stimulus to the setting of a cl assroom which allowed for increased exposure and assimilation time (Bohm, 1989, 1990, 1994; Bohm, Clark, & Aveni, 1990, 1991; Bohm & Vogel, 1991; Bohm, Maisto, & Vogel, 1993; Wright, Bohm, & Jamieson, 1995). But again knowledge levels, knowledge ga ins, and knowledge retention were not measured. Instead these researchers assume d that an increase in knowledge level was occurring in participants through exposure to reading materials and information presented within a classroom setting. Simply exposing participants to information does not mean that this information was retained nor does it not show how much was retained. These
8 past studies did not measure individual knowledge level of their participants or the knowledge gained over time. Researchers ma y have assumed that the stimulus provided between the pre and the pos ttest translated into knowledge being gained. The second Marshall hypothesis (increased death penalty knowledge leading to a reduction of death penalty support) must be measured in terms of knowledge gain and attitude change in order to be comprehensive and s how causation. There should be a direct measure of the correlation between ch ange in the amount of information gained and change in death penalty opinion. Merely measuring attitudes on a pretest-posttest basis without analyzing the underlying change s in the amount of knowledge gained is an incomplete test of the second prong of the Marshall Hypothesis. The current study will improve on previous studies (Sarat & Vi dmar, 1976; Vidmar & Dittenhoffer, 1981; Ellsworth & Ross, 1983; Bohm, 1989, 1990, 1994; Bohm et al., 1990, 1991, 1993; Bohm & Vogel, 1991; Wright et al., 1995) by m easuring information level and knowledge gained over the course of the stimulus and will assess the effects of this change in level of information on change if any, in death penalty opinion.
9 Chapter Two Literature Review Shortly after MarshallÂ’s assertions in Furman researchers began to conduct studies to examine their empirical viability. In testing all of parts of the Marshall hypothesis, the challenge is changing abstra ct concepts such as Â“informedÂ” and Â“knowledge of the death penaltyÂ” into operati onalized variables. The difficulty lies in determining what information and how much of it is necessary to achieve the status of being Â“informed.Â” Is being an Â“informedÂ” c itizen tantamount to merely being exposed to capital punishment related mate rials, or does it involve unde rstanding the content of those materials? If the latter, what level of understanding constitu tes being Â“informed?Â” There is the additional issue of meas uring retributiveness. Since Justice Marshall believed that death penalty support based on retributiv e reasoning was resistant to any new information, increased knowledge must be an alyzed in conjunction with measures of retributiveness. The extant research literature testing the Marshall H ypothesis has largely failed to address these issues. A few of the first studies to address i ssue were conducted in the mid-seventies and employed a pre-test/post-test design. A study done by Ellsworth and Ross (1983) disseminated a questionnaire to five hundred people from th e San Francisco Bay area in 1974. A high response rate was achieved by havi ng their research assi stants contact the participants and set up appointments to collect the surveys instead of mailing them. What Ellsworth and Ross were able to discern wa s that even though the majority of their respondents had an unusually high education leve l, they still had li ttle knowledge of the
10 application and consequences of capital punishment. More specifically, the respondents that were pro death penalty rated deterrence as their strongest reas on, yet when presented with facts contradicting its efficacy, most w ould still maintain their beliefs (Ellsworth & Ross, 1983). This statement reaffirms Marsha llÂ’s contention that retributive reasoning supercedes knowledge and facts ge rmane to the death penalty. Sarat and Vidmar (1976) conducted a st udy utilizing interview data gathered from a sample of 200 adult residents of Am herst, Massachusetts in 1975. A pretest was administered which took the form of a questio nnaire with various statements designed to gauge attitudes towards capital punishment on a Li kert scale. The stimulus introduced to the participants were two fifteen-hundred word essays focusing on the utilitarian and humanitarian aspects of capit al punishment, which was followed by a post-test. Sarat and Vidmar found that their subj ects knew very little about the death penalty and when exposed to information about the death pena lty, a large percentage of people changed their opinion to not favoring the death penalt y. They also found that retributive beliefs had a strong and significant relationship with support in terms of retaining previously held opinions. Although these findings are im pressive, there were several shortcomings of the study that limit the ge neralizability of the results The stimulus introduced provides basic information at best, and certain ly would not qualify as providing a wealth of knowledge on the subject. The authors even concede that the conditions of the study provided Â“only the most minimal opportunity for creating informed public opinionÂ” (p. 195). For instance, the exposure to the provi ded stimulus amounts to the time it took for each respondent to read two 1500 word essays a nd then take a post-test on their attitudes. This brevity of exposure coupled with minima l time for adequate reflection does not meet
11 the criteria for retained Â“knowle dge.Â” The study also fails to analyze the legitimacy of retribution as a factor in fo rmulating opinion and maintaini ng ignorance against relevant facts and information. Both studies found a general reduction in support for the death penalty but were unable to understand the re asoning behind the change and to what level their respondents were Â“informed.Â” Vidmar and Dittenhoffer (1981), in a Cana dian study, also used a pre and posttest questionnaire but impr oved on the other studies by changing two things. They exposed the participants to relevant informa tion materials, but then coupled it with group discussions and a longer period of time for reflection and assimilation. The idea behind this approach was that active learning is mo re conducive to attitude change than passive learning. The researchers were able to form a quasi-experime ntal group by paying the subjects that participated in the readings and discussions a larger sum of money than the control group which merely f illed out the pre and post-te sts. These improvements on design allowed Vidmar and Dittenhoffer not only to replicate previous findings by shifting certain cases from death penalty support to death penalty opposition, it also produced a majority of opposition. Opinion in the experimental subjects changed from 33 percent opposing capital pun ishment to 71 percent (Vidmar & Dittenhoffer, 1981). Despite its improvements, the study had some major shortcomings. Researchers had to assume that the subjects in the experimental group actually read the assigned material and brought up pertinent information in the group me etings. There were also no researchers present in these group meetings, so there wa s no way of knowing what was talked about, or if any subjects monopolized these discussions. Another major problem with the study is its use of an extremely small (N=21) nonrandom sample. The study demonstrated the
12 need to improve sample size and increase th e amount of information along with the time needed to retain that information. The crucial component missi ng in these studies appears to be the need to ex ert a greater amount of contro l over the circumstances. The process by which an individual person perceives the information he or she has been given still remains a mystery. In a 1979 study, Lord, Ross, & Lepper attempt to illustrate some of the dynamics of this process. In their study th ey identified that att itude polarization and biased assimilation play a pa rt in the way people process information. It is their contention that people who hold strong opinions on complex social issues are likely to examine relevant empirical evidence in a biased manner. A group of 151 undergraduates were delineated as either Â“opponentsÂ” or Â“proponentsÂ” of the death penalty according to their answers on a questionnaire. Lord and his colleagues discovered that when exposed to the same empirical studies, the students as similated the information in a biased manner in accordance with their previously held be liefs. In other words, people who have a strongly held opinion on a certain subject will take in information differentially, disregarding conflicting evid ence and placing greater emphasis on evidence consistent with their beliefs, thereby pol arizing their opinions (Lord et al., 1979; Ellsworth & Ross, 1983). The effects of attitude polarization and other biases necessitate a change in the time and manner in which information is impart ed. The next era of tests of the Marshall hypothesis, almost completely monopolized by Bohm and his colleagues, attempted to address this issue (Bohm, 1989, 1990, 1994; Bohm et al., 1990, 1991, 1993; Wright et al., 1995; Bohm & Vogel, 1991). These studies utilized a classroom setting and increased
13 the stimulus time to an entire semester instead of a questionnaire filled out in a few hours (Bohm, 1989, 1990, 1994; Bohm et al., 1990, 1991, 1993, 1995; Bohm & Vogel, 1991). Moreover, a classroom setting provides constant instructor supervision and more time for the participants to take in and analyze in formation and incorporate it into their own system of beliefs. Classroom settings generally met for 40 hours a semester and classroom instruction was supplemented with videos on capital punishment, guest speakers, classroom discussion and the use of BedauÂ’s The Death Penalty in America (1982), (Bohm, 2003, p. 263). Opinions on the death penalty were disaggregated into four questions because the general opini on question taken from poll data does not accurately encompass the different degrees of support people may have (Bohm, 1989, 1990, 1994; Bohm et al., 1990, 1991, 1993, 1995; Bohm & Vogel, 1991). The first two questions proffered scenarios in which the respondent decide if some or all people convicted of first degree murder should be put to death, while the last two were more direct and asked respondents to put themse lves in the position of jury member or executioner. Bohm and associatesÂ’ measure of deat h penalty opinion along with the improved experimental stimulus of a college classroom ha ve led to a number of important findings. With regard to the first question of whether all people convicted of first degree murder should be put to death, the percentage in crease in opposition went from 28.3 to 46.6 percent. Likewise, the percen tage increase in opposition for some people convicted of first degree murder went from 28 to 49.5 per cent (Bohm et al., 1991). The third question asked respondents to act as a member of a jury trial where the defendant, if found guilty, would automatically be sentenced to death. Th e change in percentage of those subjects
14 who could not convict went from 22.5 to 34.4. When asked to act as executioner and actually pull the lever themselves the per centage went from 47.2 to 49.6 percent who could not pull the lever (Bohm et al., 1991) Though support for the death penalty may decline after participants have been informe d, the change in opinion was not great enough to produce an opposition greater than 50 percent (Bohm, 1989 ; Bohm et al., 1991; Bohm & Vogel, 1994). Three factors were identified that were not affected by increased knowledge about the death penalty. If revenge or retribution is the main reason for death penalty support, then knowledge is not likely to effect much change because revenge is primarily an emotional instead of an intellectual respons e (Bohm & Vogel, 1991; Bohm et al., 1993). Increased knowledge would also not have an effect on death penalty attitudes if that opinion is based on the incapacitation effect of the death penalty, because that effect is simply irrefutable. Finally, increased knowledge of the death penalty as per the deterrence argument will not affect attitude s because general deterrence is not a particularly salient reason (Bohm et al., 1993). In fact, Bohm (1991) notes that in the 1991 Gallup poll, only 13 percent of respondent s favoring capital punish ment selected Â“it is a deterrentÂ” as a reason for their support. It was also dete rmined that if subjects give their opinion about the death penalty publicly, it may be more difficult to change their positions (Bohm, 1990). The reason for this is that people committing publicly to an opinion make those opinions more resistant to counter arguments and avoid thinking about the implications of that opinion. In a partial test of the Marshall hypothesis, Lambert & Clarke (2001) and Clarke, Lambert & Whitt (2001), have focused on the idea of innocence and the effect it
15 has on people who maintain re tribution as their main basis of support for the death penalty. Lambert and Clarke maintain that Â“ev en the most staunch a dherent of an eye for an eye will want to get the right pe rsonÂ’s eyeÂ” (2001, p. 337). Using a nonrandom sample of 210 criminal justice students, Clarke et al. used a three-part survey consisting of a pre-test, three essays, and a questionna ire to gauge attitudes on capital punishment. The first section measured studentsÂ’ knowledge on the death penalty by using a series of statements based on a 5-point likert scale. The students were then asked to read three essays which included an essay on control, on e on deterrence and one providing the most recent information on the frequency and probab ility of sentencing innocent individuals to death. The final part of the survey measured the degree to which their attitudes changed based on the exposure to each of the three essays Clarke et al. found a small reduction in support for the death penalty, but not enough to shift the level of support to one of opposition. In fact, exposure to the Â“innocenceÂ” essay led to the larges t degree in attitude shift toward death penalty which was statistica lly significant. Lamber t and Clarke (2001) conducted a similar study with the only diffe rence being a large sample (N=747). Their results produced similar findings in that those students who read the Â“innocenceÂ” essay had a larger reduction in support for the death penalty, but not enough to create a majority. Some obvious problems with thes e two studies are their use of a nonrandom sample in using only criminal justice students and the limited exposure time (approximately 10-12 minutes). Along these same lines, a positive aspect of this study is that researchers were able to produce a statistic ally significant shift in attitude using only limited exposure time.
16 The current study will utilize a college classroom as w ith the Bohm studies, but extend the experimental stimulus to a full seme ster course. This study will also expand on previous research by providing multiple meas ures of Â“knowledge.Â” In a few of the Bohm studies, Â“knowledgeÂ” was operationalized as mere exposure to the death penalty course/materials (Bohm, 1989, 1990; Bohm et al., 1990, 1991; Bohm & Vogel, 1991; Wright et al., 1995). In others, a 14-item s cale was used (Bohm et al., 1991), or a single self-defined student assessm ent of knowledge item was utilized (Bohm et al., 1993; Bohm and Vogel, 1991). In most of BohmÂ’s studies, attitudes toward the death penalty are compared before and after exposure a nd/or between Â“experimentalÂ” and Â“controlÂ” groups (Bohm, 1989, 1990; Bohm et al., 1990, 1991; Bohm & Vogel, 1991; Wright et al., 1995). In others, Â“knowledgeÂ” levels are comp ared with death penalty opinions both at the start and at the end of the course (B ohm et al., 1993; Bohm, 1994) or changes in knowledge are examined but not correlated with death penalty support or change in that support (Bohm et al., 1991). In fact, none of th ese studies have correlated the effects of identified change in knowledge levels with any changes in death penalty attitudes and beliefs which are necessary for a more comple te test of the second of the three Marshall hypotheses. The present study addresses this shortcoming. Identifying changes in knowledge levels and correlating them with changes in death penalty attitudes is the mo st ideal way to test Marshall Â’s assertions in the second prong of his hypothesis. The degree of change in an individualÂ’s know ledge level gain is the most salient way to identify whether or not a person is truly Â“informed.Â” For instance, the degree in knowledge change should have a significant impact on overall death penalty support according to MarshallÂ’s second hypothe sis. Additionally, the tendency to
17 disregard death penalty Â“mythsÂ” and accept death penalty Â“truthsÂ” should also be proportionate to the change in knowledge. Other correlations such as death penalty support with increased Â“truthÂ” acceptance and Â“mythÂ” abandonment could also be a function of the overall amount of knowledge gained.
18 Chapter Three Methodology The research design utilized for this study consisted of a one-group pretestposttest design similar to the studies conducted by Bohm (1989, 1990) and his colleagues, (Bohm & Vogel, 1991, 1994; Bohm et al., 1990, 1991, 1993). The sample for this study consisted of 70 undergraduate Criminology students of a large, urban university in West-central Florida enrolled in a special topics course on the death penalty during the Summer of 2003. All students en rolled in this cour se were Criminology majors (69) or minors (1). Fifty-six percent of the subjects were female, 60 percent were white, 23 percent black, 16 percent hispanic, a nd 1 percent Â“other.Â” The mean age of these subjects was 23.1 (SD = 5.75; range = 19-65 ). Fifty-seven perc ent were seniors and 43 percent juniors (all special topics course s in the Criminology majo r are restricted to upper-division students). The se lf-reported grade point average of the students was 2.94 (SD = 0.43; range 2.00 3.81; a minimum 2.00 g.p.a is required for both the major and minor in Criminology) and 58 percent indicated having previous exposure to information on capital punishment presented in previous co urses. The profile of these subjects is nearly identical to that of the major as a w hole. Similar to BohmÂ’s studies, the course met for 3 hours a day, twice a week, for si x weeks (42 classroom hours, with some brief breaks). The assigned te xt for the course was BohmÂ’s Deathquest II (2003). Bohm and his colleagues used The Death Penalty in America (1982) by Hugo Adam Bedau. I believe that the Bohm text supercedes the Bedau book for our purposes because it is more current, and, in our opinion, both more comprehensive and better suited for
19 undergraduates. In addition to the text, ot her sources of death penalty information included daily lectures and discussions, a required packet of readings containing 22 reprints of original empirical studies relati ng to death penalty issu es and four redacted U.S. Supreme Court rulings ( Furman v. Georgia, 1972; Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 1976; McClesky v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 279, 1987; and Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510, 1968), and several invited presentations and guest speakers. Topics covered in the course included the history of the death penalty in the United States, with special emphasis on its legal history as per the Supreme Court. Thes e topics were also ve ry similar to BohmÂ’s course description. Also covered in the course were the issues of public opinion, theological and philosophical approaches to the issue of capital punishment, and retribution. The exiguous dete rrent and incapacitation effect s of the death penalty, the issues of innocence and miscarriages of justi ce in the administration of the death penalty, and questions of arbitrariness and vagary were also discussed. Fina lly, the questions of racial/ethnic-, economic-, gende r-, and age-based disparities in capital sentencing, and the relative economic cost of capital punishment were addressed. The instructor was forthright in presenti ng his own views of the death penalty, but strongly emphasized the importance for the students to form their own, informed opinions. To the best of his abilities, all sides of an argument we re presented on issues without a preference for any position. The inst ructor would often take the role of Â“devilÂ’s advocateÂ” to provoke thought and discussion. Finally, it was made aware to the students that their grades and evaluations were by no means dependent on their beliefs and how they were reported. The course text, instructor, and other co urse materials were all quite favorably evaluated by the students; in fact several of the students offered written
20 comments about the quality of the course and the large amount information they felt they had learned (91.4 percent indicated that th ey strongly agreed with the statement: Â“Overall, I learned a great deal from this co urse,Â” the remaining 8.6 percent agreed with this statement). Several indicated that the course had caused them to change their views regarding capital punishment (58.6 percent less supportiv e/more strongly opposed; 5.7 percent less opposed/more strongly in favor) wh ile others indicated that their opinions had not changed (35.7 percent), but nearly all of the written comments showed that the students felt the course was provocative and cause d them to be more introspective. We interpret these comments as validation that the Â“experimental stimulusÂ” was sufficient in both quantity and quality of exposure (c.f Lord et al., 1979; Sarat & Vidmar, 1976; Vidmar & Dittenhoffer, 1981). On the first day of classes, after a br ief course introducti on, the students were asked to complete a brief questionnaire re garding their views on capital punishment and to take a Â“knowledgeÂ” pretest. The pret est was comprised of 50 randomly selected multiple-choice and true/false items derived from the test bank developed for the Bohm text. Although the pretest was gr aded it did not count as part of the studentsÂ’ final course grades. These same 50 items comprised the Â“knowledgeÂ” post-test and were given as part of the final exam. The scores on this exam did count as 25 pe rcent of the studentsÂ’ final course grades. The subjectsÂ’ attitudes toward capital punishment were measured before and after the stimulus using a single item. The first asked Â“Which of the following statements best describes your position towa rd the death penalty for all persons convicted of first-degree murder?Â” Response categorie s ranged from 1 = very strongly opposed to 7 = very
21 strongly in favor (high score = high support). The questionnaire s also included a series of eleven statements displaying Â“truthsÂ” a nd Â“mythsÂ” about capital punishment where students were asked to indicate the degree they agreed/disagreed (1 = strongly disagree; 4 = strongly agree). Four of these statements represented death penalty Â“truths:Â” (1) There is strong reason to believe that similar o ffenders convicted of murder often receive dissimilar sentences; that is, some are sentence d to death while others are sentenced to an alternative less than death,Â” (2) Â“Poor people who commit murder are more likely to be sentenced to death than rich people,Â” (3) Â“A black person is more likely to receive the death penalty than a white person for the same crime,Â” and (4) Â“Those who murder white victims are more likely to receive the deat h penalty than those who murder blacks.Â” These four items were combined into a co llective death penalty Â“truthsÂ” scale (high scores = high truth). The remaining seven items represented d eath penalty Â“myths:Â” (1) Â“The murder rate usually drops in the weeks following a well-publicized execution,Â” (2) Â“The murder rate is lower in states with the death penalty ,Â” (3) Â“The best available research findings consistently reveal unambiguous evidence that capital punishment reduces homicide,Â” (4) Â“The death penalty is more effective than li fe imprisonment without possibility of parole (LWOP) in protecting society from the fu ture actions of those who have already committed capital crimes,Â” (5) Â“Only legally relevant criteria distinguish murderers sentenced to death from those sentenced to a punishment less than death,Â” (6) Â“There is no evidence to support the claim that innocent pe rsons have ever been sentenced to death and executed in error,Â” and (7) Â“Capital pun ishment is less expensive than alternative
22 punishments such as life imprisonment without opportunity for parole (LWOP).Â” These seven items were combined into a collective death penalty Â“mythsÂ” scale. Change in knowledge attitudes and beliefs was operationalized by three different methods. The first method consists of simple differencing the pre-test score from the post-test or vice versa, dependi ng on the direction the change should occur. For example, an increase in knowledge level should have a positive association with truth acceptance but have a negative association with myth hol ding and death penalty support if it is concurrent with MarshallÂ’s second hypothesi s. The second method, percent of change, takes the difference from the pretest and posttes t scores or posttest from the pretest and divides it by the original pretes t score. The third method meas ures the change in relative gains achieved by each participant. Relative ga in refers to the difference of the pretestposttest scores divided by the maximum total possible points between the original pretest score and the total possible sc ore that could have been achieved. These are measurable gains specific to each particip ant based on their scoring differe ntials between pre and post test. Each student, in effect, creates for him/herself a range of possible improvement available to them. A student scoring a 90 percent on the pretest can only gain a maximum of 10 total points assuming they scor e perfectly on the posttest (See Figure 1). A student scoring 50 percent on the pretest has a better opportunity to attain a large amount of total gain points by scoring well on the posttest. Assuming the second student receives an 84 percent on their posttest, the difference (34 points) would be divided by the total points possible (50) in order to re ceive this studentÂ’s relative gain (0.68).
23 Figure 1. An Example of Relative Gains Pretest Post-test Difference Points Possible Relative Gain Student 1 90 100 10 10 1.00 Student 2 50 84 34 50 0.68 Although there is a disparity in the amount of total point s gained between the two students, student 1 was able to achieve a rela tive gain of 100 percent while student 2 only achieved 68 percent. The firs t two measures described woul d show the second student as having the greatest amount of knowledge gaine d, which albeit true, fails to show the context of that gain. The m easure of relative gain addresses this limitation. Each item was constructed in such a way that a ne gative association between the change in knowledge measure and change in the death pe nalty attitude and be lief measure would show support for the second Marshall hypothesi s. That is, the increases in knowledge should be associated with significant decrease s in death penalty support. Increases in knowledge should also have a positive associat ion with truth acceptance and a subsequent negative association with myth holdi ng. Pearson product-moment correlation coefficients are used to assess the nature of the relationship between knowledge gained and changes in truth acceptance, myth holding, and death penalty support.
24 Chapter Four Results Table 1 presents zero-ord er product moment correlati ons between measures of knowledge gain and the measures of change in death penalty support. The net difference between pretest and posttest score as a meas ure of knowledge gain shows no relationship across all three measures of ch ange in death penalty support. Likewise, the correlations between percent of change in knowledge and the three death penalty support measures also failed to attain statistical significance. However, correlations between relative gains in knowledge are statistically significant across a ll three measures of death penalty support. Therefore, th e effect of knowledge gained on change in death penalty support achieves statistical significance only when it is measured as relative gains. Those students which showed the greate st relative gains in knowledg e also reported the greatest decreases in death penalty s upport consistent with the s econd Marshall hypothesis. Table 1. PearsonÂ’s Zero-Order Product Moment Correlation between Knowledge Gains and Change in Death Penalty Support (N=70 ) Death Penalty Support Knowledge Gains Difference Percent of Change Relative Gain Difference -.107 -.125 -.125 Percent of Change -.002 -.003 -.003 Relative Gain -.220* -.265* -.265* p < .05 (one-t ailed t-test)
25 When the correlations between knowle dge gains and truth acceptance are examined (Table 2) a different pattern of findings emerge. The net difference between pretest and posttest score as a measure of knowledge gain is significantly correlated with the posttest difference in truth acceptance, but not with the percent of change or relative gains measures. The only other significant rela tionships emerge when correlating relative gains made in knowledge with both the net di fference and the relative gains measures of truth acceptance. These relationships seem to suggest that knowledge gains may have lead to greater death penalty tr uth acceptance. Acceptance of d eath penalty truths is likely to be a major component in death penalty oppos ition. As such, these findings supplement the argument that increases in relative know ledge gain will decrease death penalty support through truth acceptanc e, albeit indirectly. Table 2. PearsonÂ’s Zero-Order Product Moment Correlation between Knowledge Gains and Change in Truth Acceptance (N=70) Truth Acceptance Knowledge Gains Difference Percent of Change Relative Gain Difference .198* .184 .219 Percent of Change .106 .096 .093 Relative Gain .227* .158 .340* p < .05 (one-t ailed t-test)
26 Table 3 presents zero-ord er product moment correlati ons between measures of knowledge gain and the measures of change in myth holding. None of the measures analyzed produced statistically significant corr elations. This suggests that there is no direct relationship between gains in know ledge and the abandonm ent of death penalty myths. This is not to assume however, that there is not an indir ect relationship. Table 4, which presents the correlations between trut h acceptance and myth holding, reports that the correlation between the percent of ch ange in truth acceptance and the relative reduction in myth holding is statistically signi ficant. Thus, increased acceptance of death penalty truths may lead to the abandonment of certain death penalty myths. In other words, those students which showed the greatest percent of change in truth acceptance also reported the greatest relative decreas es in myth holding. Accepting death penalty truths challenges the viability of death pe nalty myths, which are conducive to death penalty support. Table 3. PearsonÂ’s Zero-Order Product Moment Correlation between Knowledge Gains and Change in Myth Holding (N=70) Myth Holding Knowledge Gains Difference Percent of Change Relative Gain Difference -.089 -.135 -.022 Percent of Change -.068 -.086 -.018 Relative Gain -.067 -.075 -.042 p < .05 (one-t ailed t-test)
27 Table 4. PearsonÂ’s Zero-Order Produc t Moment Correlation between Truth Acceptance and Change in Myth Holding (N=70) Myth Holding Truth Acceptance Difference Percent of Change Relative Gain Difference -.156 -.144 -.160 Percent of Change -.181 -.159 -.201* Relative Gain -.113 -.128 -.069 p < .05 (one-t ailed t-test) The zero-order product moment correla tions between measures of truth acceptance and measures of change in death pe nalty support are displayed in Table 5. No statistically significant corre lations were found between any of these measures. However, a number of the correlations be tween measures of reduced myth holding and measures of change in deat h penalty support (as shown in Table 6) attain statistical significance. The correlation between net differences in myth holding and all three measures of change in death penalty support a ttain statistical signifi cance. Likewise, the net differences in death penalty support are al so significantly related to all three measures of change in myth holding. Thus, thos e students who most abandoned death penalty myths also reported the greates t decreases in death penalty support. As was mentioned before, the reduction in death penalty myth hol ding is directly related to the gains made in truth acceptance. These finding suggest that a complex relationship exists between truth acceptance and reduced death penalty support when mediated by death penalty myth holding.
28 Table 5. PearsonÂ’s Zero-Order Produc t Moment Correlation between Truth Acceptance and Change in Death Penalty Support (N=70) Death Penalty Support Truth Acceptance Difference Percent of Change Relative Gain Difference -.069 -.030 -.030 Percent of Change -.056 -.018 -.018 Relative Gain -.016 -.028 -.028 p < .05 (one-t ailed t-test) Table 6. PearsonÂ’s Zero-Order Product Moment Correlation between Myth Holding and Change in Death Penalty Support (N=70) Death Penalty Support Myth Holding Difference Percent of Change Relative Gain Difference .275* .224* .224* Percent of Change .237* .192 .192 Relative Gain .270* .194 .194 p < .05 (one-t ailed t-test) In summation, these findings reported in Tables 1-6 suggest that gains in knowledge have both direct and indirect relationships with decreases in death penalty support. For example, Figure 2 shows a dire ct relationship in th at an increase in knowledge leads to a decrease in death penalty support. The indirect relationship appears
29 to be a function of truth acceptance, myth holding and death penalty support also illustrated in Figure 2.1. Knowledge gains are directly related to increased acceptance of death penalty truths. In tu rn, increased acceptance of deat h penalty truths leads to a decrease in adhering to death penalty myth s. Finally, the aba ndoning of death penalty myths leads to decreased support for the de ath penalty. These direct and indirect relationships between knowledge gains and the reduction of death penalty support give credence to the second prong of the Marshall Hypothesis. Figure 2. Direct and Indirect Effects of Knowledge Gain on Decreased Support for Capital Punishment The two variables having the greatest di rect impact on change in death penalty support according to Tables 1 through 6 are knowledge gain and myth abandonment. In order to better understand some of the dynamic behind these effects, a profile analysis is employed to examine the characteristics of those students who reported the highest knowledge gains and the lowest myth ab andonment. That is, the demographic Knowledge Death Penalty Support Truth Acceptance Myth Holding ( + ) ( ) (+) ( )
30 characteristics of those participants that di splayed the greatest amount of knowledge gain will be evaluated to determine what factors sp ecific to the group or individual facilitated a change in attitude. Transversely, those st udents who were found to be most resistant in maintaining their death penalty myths will also be analyzed. To do so, the profile of those students from the top 20 percent of knowledge gain is described (Table 7). Similarly, a profile of those students from the bottom 20 perc ent of myth holding is also described (Table 8).
31 Table 7. A Profile Analysis of People with The Strongest Knowledge Gains: Relative Gain Greater than or Equal to .80 (n=16) Variable Mean Standard Deviation Minimum Maximum Age 22.94 3.53 19.0 34.0 Sex 0.56 0.51 0.0 1.0 Black 6 % 0.25 0.0 1.0 Hispanic 0.13 0.34 0.0 1.0 G.P.A 3.17 0.45 2.2 3.81 Retributiveness 8.38 2.47 4.0 13.0 Difference in truth acceptance 3.63 3.84 -2.0 12.0 Difference in myth holding 4.13 4.92 -5.0 14.0 Death penalty support (pretest) 4.81 1.11 2.0 7.0 Death penalty support (posttest) 3.50 1.86 1.0 7.0 Difference in DP Support 1.31 1.40 0 4.0 % of change in DP Support 0.28 0.31 0 0.80 Relative gain in DP Support 0.28 0.31 0 0.80
32 The participants most likely to hold on to previously held myths about the death penalty had a mean age of 23.7 and made up 53 percent of the class. The range in age went from 19 years old to 65. These stude nts had a mean grade point average of 2.90 with a minimum of 2.0 and a ma ximum of 3.78. The mean di fference in truth acceptance was 1.89 with a standard deviation of 3.74. These students had a mean score of 4.97 for the death penalty support variable on the pret est and a mean score of 4.41 on the posttest. The difference between the pretes t and posttest scores was 0.57.
33 Table 8. A Profile Analysis of Most Re sistant Myth Holders: Percent of Change Less than or Equal to .20 (n=37 ) Variable Mean Standard Deviation Minimum Maximum Age 23.70 7.64 19.0 65.0 Sex 0.56 0.50 0.0 1.0 Black 24 % 0.43 0.0 1.0 Hispanic 0.11 0.31 0.0 1.0 G.P.A 2.90 0.45 2.0 3.78 Retributiveness 8.41 2.90 4.0 15.0 Difference in truth acceptance 1.89 3.74 -3.0 12.0 Difference in knowledge gain 44.78 15.84 18.0 80.0 Relative knowledge gain 0.70 0.13 0.38 0.96 Death penalty support (pretest) 4.97 1.54 1.0 7.0 Death penalty support (posttest) 4.41 2.13 1.0 7.0 Difference in DP Support 0.57 1.56 -2.0 4.0 % of change in DP Support 0.10 0.38 -1.0 0.80 Relative gain in DP Support 0.10 0.38 -1.0 0.80
34 The participants achieving the greatest amount of knowledge gains had a mean age of 22.9 and made up 23 percent of the class. The range in age went from 19 years old to 34. These students had a mean grade point average of 3.17 with a minimum of 2.2 and a maximum of 3.81. The mean difference in truth acceptance was 3.63 with a standard deviation of 3.84. These students had a mean score of 4.81 for the de ath penalty support variable on the pretest and a mean score of 3.50 on the posttest, for a difference of 1.31. These numbers indicate that there were significant differenc es along with some similarities between the two groups. Grade poi nt average, for example, displayed very similar low and high range values that only va ried by one or two tenths of a point. The difference becomes evident when comparing the two mean scores which are 2.90 for the stanch myth holders versus 3.17 for the greate st knowledge gain students. This is a significant, though not surprising difference in th at those students w ho made the greatest knowledge gains would also have the higher grade point average. It is also not surprising to see that the highest myth holding student s had a mean score of 1.89 in truth acceptance on the seven point scale as opposed to a sc ore of 3.63 for the highest knowledge gain students. Those participants most likely to hold on to death penalty myths should also be more resilient in accepting death penalty trut hs. Finally, the most relevant observation when looking at pre and posttest differences is the degree of change in death penalty support. Both the myth holding and knowledge gain students report very similar pretest scores of 4.97 and 4.81, respectively. At the time of the posttest, however, the students with the greatest knowledge gains show a m ean score of 3.50 in death penalty support while their myth holding counterparts di splayed a 4.41, indicating only a minimal reduction in support. A mean difference of 0.57 for the myth holders and 1.31 for the
35 knowledge gains students shows a significant diffe rence in death penalty support. This is also not a surprising conclusion when consider ing the results of Tabl es 1-6 and of Figure 2 which illustrates the direct and indirect effect of knowle dge gain and myth holding on death penalty support. These results have considerable relevance when we relate them to the contentions made in the Marshall Hypothesis, specifically the s econd prong. Justice MarshallÂ’s belief that with increased information and knowledge gains the Â“great mass of citizens would conclude that the death penalty is immoral and therefore unconstitutionalÂ” has a significant bearing on the af orementioned results. Although a 1.31 reduction in death penalty support by the highest knowledge gains students is not tantamount to a total rejection of the death penalty, it does illustrate a definite trend. Those students with the highest grade point averages that were able to accept death penalty truths and abandon death penalty myths consequently made the greatest amount of knowledge gains. This result certainly gives credibil ity to the belief that the more knowledgeable one becomes on capital punishment, the more likely one is to reject its practice.
36 Chapter Five Summary and Conclusions This study sought to examine whether or not a relationship exists between support for capital punishment and knowledge gained on the subject. The reason for conducting this type of research follows the notion that the American public is usually uninformed on a variety of different topics which they al so profess to have strong opinions on. The Marshall Hypothesis serves as an excellent sp ringboard for this research and has become the impetus for many studies preceding this one. The second prong of this hypothesis states that if the American public were to become informed about the practice, application, and corollary eff ects of capital punishment, they would be against it. The other two prongs offer that the majority of Americans are uninformed about the death penalty and that information would have no effect on their beliefs if that belief was rooted in retribution. This study focused on the second pr ong of that hypothesis and attempted to identify the dynamics behind how information becomes knowledge, how much of that knowledge was gained, and if increased knowledge reduced death penalty support. This study replicated the classroom setti ng used by Bohm and his associates and used a one-group pretest-posttest design (Bohm, 1989, 1990; Bohm & Vogel, 1991; Bohm et al., 1990, 1991, 1993). The group consisted of 70 undergraduates who were either criminology majors or minors enrolled in a special topics course on the death penalty during the Summer of 2003. The cla ss consisted of an assigned text for the course, daily lectures and class discussions, re quired reading packets, and several invited
37 presentations and guest speakers. Students were given a Â“knowle dgeÂ” pretest at the beginning and end of the class which consiste d of 50 random questions related to capital punishment. This test was supplemented with a survey used to gauge studentsÂ’ attitudes toward capital punishment which consisted of a 7-point likert scale. The survey also included eleven statements that represented Â“truthsÂ” and Â“mythsÂ” a bout the death penalty which were measured using a 4-point scale. The main focus of the study was change in knowledge and amount of knowledge gained, which was analyzed using simple differencing, percent of change and relative ga ins. The nature of the relationship between knowledge gained and changes in truth accep tance, myth holding, and death penalty support were assessed by using Pearson pr oduct-moment correlation coefficients. Results of the study included a number of key findings which displayed some direct and indirect associations between in creased knowledge and death penalty support. In terms of direct knowledge gains on death penalty support, a key finding was that those students with the greatest relative gains in knowledge reported the greatest decreases in death penalty support. In this case knowledge level did have the pr edicted effect on death penalty support, but only as a function of the specific rela tive gains made. Knowledge gain was also measured against the degree to which the students held on to death penalty myths. Although no association was found that achieved any statistical significance, further analysis revealed an indirect correlation between knowl edge gains, truth acceptance, and the effect it had on myth abandonment. Acceptance of death penalty Â“truthsÂ” was found to be directly related to an increase in knowledge gain, which subsequently lead to a reduction in students holding on to their death penalty Â“myths.Â” Truth acceptance alone had no effect on reduced death penalty support unless it was also
38 correlated with myth holding, revealing a comp lex indirect relations hip. In both cases increased knowledge gains lead to a reduction in death penalty support either directly or indirectly when mediated by truth accepta nce and myth holding. These key findings seem to suggest that the s econd prong of the Marshall H ypothesis maintains relevance even if its suppositions are more multifacet ed than originally surmised. Some other findings, the result of a demographic analysis between the most stringent myth holders and people with the highest knowledge gains, illustrated specific attributes associated with each of these groups For example, the students who made the greatest gains in knowledge al so had a higher mean grade point average than their counterparts. These same students were able to attain a higher le vel of truth acceptance and refute death penalty myths. An inte resting finding was that both groups detailed similar pretest scores on death penalty s upport, but after the stimulus, the highest knowledge gain students had a much more si gnificant reduction in death penalty support than students who held onto their myths. There were several limitati ons to this study which shoul d be addressed in future research on the Marshall Hypothesis. The sa mple used was not a random sample as it was comprised of criminal justice students w ho opted to take the sp ecial topics course on capital punishment. There was no control gr oup and there were no controls for gender, race, grade point average, and retributiveness. The statistical analysis was incomplete because there was no use of residual change scores. Valid generalizations of these findings cannot be conclusively drawn due to the fact that the level of correlation was relatively low and statistical significance achieved was never higher than a 0.340.
39 The relevance of this research is evid ent today because capital punishment in the United States remains a hot button issue. Proponents and opponents of the death penalty stringently maintain their beliefs and justif y them with a number of religious, academic, and social rationales. The ju stifications behind the reason ing of death penalty proponents were directly challenged through increased in formation and discussion in the setting of a university classroom. If Justice MarshallÂ’s contentions are to have any legitimacy in the ongoing debate over capital punishment in this country, then they should be tested completely. As researchers achieve a more cogent and comprehensiv e analysis of this postulate, the closer we will come in deciding its true relevance. The research conducted in this study wa s not meant to be a simple replication exercise of the previous tests of the Mars hall Hypothesis. I believe that there was a significant contribution to be made to the exta nt literature in that no one had previously studied change in knowledge and the effect it had on death penalty support. Increased information, and therefore knowledge, is an integral component to the second prong of the Marshall Hypothesis, and should be meas ured to see if it wa s actually achieved. Previous tests have relied on exposure to information on the deat h penalty, and although time and level of exposure were increased, the retention and level of increase were never analyzed. This study provided multiple measures of knowledge and attempted to measure that change in knowledge to see if wa s retained at the end of the class and what effect this change had on support for capit al punishment. Although it is beyond the scope of this study to evaluate the epistemologi cal foundation of knowle dge gain, it does prove that increased knowledge can change opinion an d beliefs. The data show that analyzing
40 the dynamics of knowledge gain is now the proper focus of the debate over the ability to create an Â“informed electorate.Â”
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