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The effect of passive voice on perceived responsibility of the perpetrator

12 July 2013


The present study looks at the possible effect of passive voice use in verbal (as opposed to written) descriptions of crimes and its effect on potential jury members’ attributions of blame (and ultimately guilt and sentencing). Based on the results of previous research, it was hypothesized that for passive voice scenarios, less blame would be attributed to the perpetrator and a more lenient sentence would be prescribed, but the outcome of the current study did not support these hypotheses. However, results contrary to hypothesized outcome were obtained in that participants exposed to the passive voice version of the non-violent crime scenario (an identity theft scenario) assigned slightly harsher sentences (on average of 13.74 years longer) instead of more lenient sentences to the hypothetical perpetrator. Although still non-significant, these results may indicate some underlying social attitudes or beliefs about identity theft that warrant further investigation.


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