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The emotional witness effect: story content, emotional valence and credibility of a male suspect

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Most previous studies of the relation between emotional expression and perceived credibility carried out in the context of witness research have focused on female witnesses, frequently cast in the role of victims of crimes. In this study the focus is shifted, examining the impact of emotional expression on judgments of credibility of a young man suspected of rape, and on judgments of the probability of a guilty verdict in a hypothetical trial. Mock jurors (n=179) viewed one of six video-recorded free recall statements of the incident. Two versions of the testimony were constructed, varying slightly with respect to admitted use of physical force and resistance from the victim. The statements were given with one of three emotional expressions, termed negative, neutral and positive. Credibility judgments were strongly influenced by the emotions displayed but not by the content of the statement whereas judgments of the probability of guilt were not affected by the emotions displayed but were significantly affected by the content of the statement. The results suggest that emotional expression impacts perceived credibility independent of witness gender and victim/offender status.

Keywords: credibility; emotion; guilt and responsibility; offender; rape

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Psychology,University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway 2: Centre for the Study of Human Cognition, Department of Psychology,University of Oslo, Norway

Publication date: June 1, 2012


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