A social judgment? Extralegal contrast effects in hypothetical legal decision making.

Social judgments in ambiguous situations often rely on heuristics and biases, and legal decision makers are often faced with evidence that does not clearly favor one decision over another. Across two studies, we tested whether one extralegal factor, contrast cases, influenced decision making when judicial factors were held constant. In Study 1, participants (n = 100) evaluated whether an imagined prosecutor had sufficient evidence to send the same three target cases to trial. Before deciding these cases, though, the participants first evaluated cases with either relatively stronger or weaker evidence than the targets. Those in the weak-case comparison group were significantly more likely to send target cases to trial, and they believed the prosecutor had a stronger case. In Study 2, all participants (n = 100) evaluated hypothetical parole applications, but the method was otherwise the same as that used in Study 1. The same contrast-oriented pattern emerged. Participants who first viewed weaker parole applications rated the identical targets as significantly more rehabilitated. Taken together, the results of these two studies suggest that contrast effects may be one extralegal factor involved in shaping individual-level social judgments made in legal contexts such as grand juries and parole boards. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)