Graduation Year

2015

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Degree Granting Department

Criminology

Major Professor

John K. Cochran, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Kathleen M. Heide, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Eldra P. Solomon, Ph.D.

Keywords

Capital Punishment, Death Penalty, Empathy, Gender Gap, Racial Divide

Abstract

This study aimed to examine previous empirical literature indicating that death penalty support contains a divide among Blacks and Whites and a gap among males and females. Previous literature has indicated that there has been a persistent racial divide and gender gap in death penalty support that has spanned over 60 years of research. Attempts to attenuate these divides have failed to fully explain why Whites are more likely than Blacks to support the death penalty and men are more likely than women to support the death penalty. This study proposes the use of empathy to control for these divides because research has indicated that those who are more empathic tend to be less punitive.

Using data collected from a survey conducted on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, a paid task website, this study attempted to attenuate the racial divide and gender gap by controlling for empathy. The sample consisted of 403 usable surveys that contained questions that measured sociodemographic characteristics, three measurements of empathy (cognitive, affective and ethnocultural), death penalty support, and attribution styles.

The results indicated that there was not a racial divide or gender gap in death penalty support despite over 60 years of research indicating otherwise. Furthermore, this study failed to find a significant relationship between cognitive and affective empathy with death penalty support. This study did find a relationship between attribution styles and death penalty support as well as ethnocultural empathy with death penalty support. Individuals who scored higher on the situational attribution style were less likely to support the death penalty. Those who scored higher on the ethnocultural empathy scale were also less likely to support the death penalty.

Future research should refrain from testing with Amazon’s Mechanical Turk as was not generalizable to the United States population. Research should be continued on different samples that have been shown to be more reliable than online surveys. Finally, research should be continued beyond empathy to examine what effects other controls have on the racial divide and gender gap in death penalty support.

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