Role of Information portrayal in influencing judgment

Role of Information portrayal in influencing judgment

A psychology experiment to measure the effect of showing information in different ways on judgment of people conducted by Rhythm Gupta and Mohit Aggarwal


Rhythm Gupta

April 29, 2013


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    Objective Objective of this psychology experiment is to study how

    the portrayal of information through media affects decision making of an individual. It focuses on how showing information in different ways can influence how people perceive a particular situation and how their reactions can be molded in favor or against someone. There may be several factors affecting the rationality of Indian people in judging criminals. The factors that tend to cause a change in the mentality of people are background history of the criminal, the factors that caused him to demonstrate an act of violence or fraud, his political/social fame and whether the Indian media portrays him as a protagonist or antagonist. The objective of this experiment is to estimate the role of some of these factors in affecting how people judge the severity of a crime and thereafter deciding appropriate punishment for the criminal. Introduction Today many questions are being raised on the Indian media regarding whether they portray the information correctly or not. People tend to perceive situations according to the facts that are provided to them and their beliefs. The problem generally faced in Indian media is that they don’t provide the complete facts and they portray information in such a manner that bias the people’s decision. A particular example of how judgment of people changes according to their beliefs is given here. A popular naval officer killed the lover of his wife.[2] Public rallied in his support (given how conservative India was then) and jury decided it was not a premeditated murder. Later Supreme Court found the jury to be too influenced by the media leading them to make erroneous judgments. In this case people supported the naval officer even though he killed a person because the person had affairs with his wife which was not seen as right by the people so he supported him. The decision making of people is greatly affected by their emotions. The area of intersection of emotions and law is relatively untouched one. Psycholegal researchers have merely scratched the surface of this vibrant field.
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    Hypothesis According to the studies we have made we have

    agreed upon the following hypothesis. Our hypothesis is that the decision of people tends to be influenced by the way the information is presented to them. They decision is influenced if they are emotionally attached to the situation. According to our study the following factors will support our hypothesis. 1. The more the viewer gets attached to the criminal the less will be the punishment he/she decides. This can happen in two ways. The extent to which a person gets attached to the criminal can depend upon his character and his family background. 2. If the criminal is famous and is seen by the viewer as the good person he/she will punish him less. The person being famous would affect the judgment as people are emotionally attached to the person so their judgment can be biased. 3. The more the viewer gets attached to the victim the more is the punishment that he/she will decide. Attachment to the victim will cause the viewer to be more outraged by the crime and hence the punishment would be more severe. Method Sample: Our sample was a group of students studying in IIT Delhi who were all in the age group of 18-21. We decided to restrict our study to the people of similar social group. By selecting such a sample we tried to minimize any aberrations which could be caused by the difference in thinking of people due to the differences in thinking and social group. Although such factors cannot be controlled completely, their effect can be minimized by selecting people of similar educational background, age and ethnicity. Another motivation in choosing this sample was that they are the literate youth and their decision is bound to be less biased to any stereotypes. Our aim was to view and observe the reactions of people when they were asked to judge a variety of criminals in a wide range of circumstances. Different subjects were given different cases having different backgrounds histories of the criminals, different reasons for the crime but the crime was more or less same in each of the case. We used videos based on text and images to tell the stories of all the criminals. We then asked our subjects whether these criminals deserves punishment or not, if they do, how long? Design of the Experiment: Independent variables: Since every person is different, different people have different socio-emotional state and different parameters on which he/she may judge that act of crime, which we generally cannot control. To eliminate this independent variable, we have decided to conduct this experiment on people with similar mentality, age group and conscience. Another attempt to phase out this variable was that we tried to expand our data as the more is the data the more randomization would be introduced and hence each situation would have a similar set of people.
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    Another independent variable is that the person may hesitate to

    speak what he actually thinks or he may not speak what he actually think. This factor is more difficult to control but to eliminate this, we’ve ensured the subjects about their anonymity and tried to make them feel comfortable so that they may open to us freely. Randomness of the experiment was decreased by providing the viewers a reference punishment for the crimes shown in the videos. They were told that the maximum punishment for murder and accident was 14 years and 6 years respectively. This would prevent viewers from giving random punishment and make their answer more accurate in describing their view. Dependent Variables: We’ve tried to monitor the change in person’s judgment on the case in accordance with the following changes. The variables that we have monitored in the experiment are: 1. Historical background of the criminal i.e. family background and their living standards. 2. The political influence of the criminal or the fame of the criminal. 3. How the character of the person involved is crime is projected i.e. does it changes the attitude of people when they find out whether the criminal was loving and caring or psychopath and egoistic. 4. The character of the victim. Procedure The procedure of this experiment was fairly straightforward. First of all we made some videos. In each of the videos the story of a person is shown who commits a crime knowingly or unknowingly. The differences between the videos is created to test the various factors whose roles we are trying to measure in decision making. Then we went to different people, showed them a video and asked their opinion on what punishment is to be given to the person who commits the crime. In this process we first told them the maximum punishments for different crimes to give them a reference for the punishment they provide. This will help in decreasing the randomness of the process and give a more accurate description of the idea of the viewer’s perception of severity of crime. The videos were made in order to measure different roles. For each factor there was a pair of videos to contrast that factor so that we could contrast the results of each of the factors and hence calculate the role of the factor in contributing to the decision making of the individual. The summary of the stories of the videos used is given here: Character of the criminal: Two videos were made which were similar with respect to the crime committed. In each of the two videos a person is shown who commits a murder. But the difference in the two videos is that the person who commits the crime is shown in different background settings of the criminal. One person is shown as an honest ideal Indian male who performs all his duties and he can be seen as the kind of person who the Indian public will try to bond with. After showing such characters of the man, portraying him as the protagonist, it is revealed that he commits a murder. In the other video the person who commits a murder in a similar scenario is shown as the villain. He is the kind of person everyone would hate. He is someone who bullies people. The two videos try to contrast the character of the criminal keeping the setting of the crime same.
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    **Video #1 and Video #2 in the appendix Family Background

    of the criminal: Two videos were made in order to judge the role of contrasting the family background of the criminal. Here also the two videos show the same severity of the crime setup in the same scenario. The difference in the two videos is that the family background of the criminals in both the cases is different. In one video there is a young person who had everything in his life served to him on a silver platter. He was a casual person and didn’t have much to worry about in his life. In the other video there is a person who is poor and has to do a lot of hard work and struggle through his life to feed himself and his family who is dependent on him. In his struggle for food he tries to earn some extra money by driving taxi. In both the cases the characters shown have an accident and a person is killed in the accident. **Video #3 and Video #4 in the appendix Fame: In this case a person is shown who is very famous and all his good characteristics are stressed upon. He is shown as someone who is loved by the people and is very popular among Indian audience. He tends to commit an accident. This story is contrasted with the case where a normal person who is not very popular commits an accident. **Video #5 and Video #4 in the appendix Character and background of the victim: For this purpose the two stories contrasted in the way the victim of the crime was shown. In one video the victim was shown as a person who was a very bright person and having a very bright future. He was shown in a way in which the viewer could attach to him. In the other video the victim was shown as typical bad person. He is person everybody would hate in the first look. The videos show that both these persons were killed in an accident. **Video #6 and Video #7 in the appendix *** See appendix for the detailed scripts of the videos ***
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    Result Scoring As described in the procedure in the experiment

    a person was shown a video and was asked to decide the punishment he considered appropriate for the crime. We first informed the viewers about the amount of punishment which is generally given to people for such a crime and then asked for their opinion on how much punishment do they consider the crime to be. The maximum punishment for murder in our experiment was told to be 14 years. The maximum punishment of accident in our experiment was told to be 6 years. These punishments were given as a reference in order for the viewer to decide how much punishment to give. In this procedure we try to rate the factors by contrasting the average punishment that people give for the people shown in the video. We compiled the data received by us during the experiment to find out the average punishments given by the people. Following average punishments given by people to each video. Video #* Video Average Punishment 1. Good Character of the criminal 9.2 years 2. Bad Character of the criminal 14 years 3. Criminal is rich and powerful 4.5 years 4. Criminal is poor and helpless( A common man) 2.9 years 5. Criminal is famous and popular 2.1 years 6. Victim is shown as a good man 6 years 7. Victim is shown as a bad man 3.1 years *According to the video number in the appendix Analysis Case wise analysis: Character of the criminal: As seen in the results we got there was a complete distinction in the amount of punishment the viewer give in the two cases. In the video 1 the average punishment given was 9.2 years whereas for video 2 the average punishment was 14 years clearly showing that showing the character of the person who conducted the crime in different ways causes viewers to think differently. This is also consistent with the case discussed in the introduction. This result is also consistent with the assumptions we made and supports our hypothesis. Family background of the criminal: In this case also the results of the experiment were similar to what we had expected. In the case where the criminal has a rich and powerful background the average punishment given by the viewers was 4.5 in contrast to 2.9 years in the case where the criminal has a poor background and there are people dependent on him. Fame of the criminal: This case showed that people tend to give very less punishment in this case in contrast to the videos 3 and 4 where the crime committed was the same. In this case the average punishment was only 2.1 years. This clearly shows that because the man was famous and was seen as a good man by the people he received less punishment.
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    Characters and background of victim: The results of this section

    show that the results in the case of victim being a good man and in the case of a bad man were highly contrasting. In the case where the victim was a good man all the people gave the criminal the maximum punishment whereas in the case where the victim was shown as a bad man the average punishment given was 3.1 years. The result of our experiment show that all the results were consistent with our expectations. Showing the same crimes in different ways produces different perceptions of a crime and henceforth the punishments they tend to decide for the criminals are different. Chart1 Chart2 0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 1 2 3 4 5 6 Accidents related Cases Criminal is Rich and Powerful: Video 3 Criminal is poor and helpless Criminal is famous and popular Victim is shown as a good man Victim is shown as a bad man 0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Murder Related Cases Good Character of the criminal: Video 1 Bad character of the Criminal: Video 2
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    Discussion The way people gave their verdict for various criminals

    in different videos completely verifies our hypothesis that people do let their emotions to control their conscience when it comes to punish a criminal. For example: in the historic case of L.R. Singhania, depicted in Video 1, most of the people let his bravery and dedication for Indian soil shadow his heinous crime of murder. We can also analyze the chart created here. The peak of each of the curve shows what most of the people want the punishment to be. For ex. The chart-1 shows us that the green peak, the one where criminal is famous and popular, occurs in the minimalist region, confirming that people doesn’t want their favorite superstars to go to jail for a long period of time, whereas if the victim is portrayed as a good man or if the criminal is a rich and powerful man, people show no mercy to him. There’s a psychological factor to it too. This shows that what is right or wrongs doesn’t matter but what matters is what the heart wants. While making decisions, we don’t look up the notebooks of law but we do what we feel is true. When we get emotional with things we forget what is rational but when we look back on the judgments we make we tend to regret those decisions. References: [1] : Pyschology in the courtroom: Clive R. Hollin [2] [3] Wiener, R. L., Richmond, T. L., Seib, H. M., Rauch, S. M. and Hackney, A. A. (2002), The psychology of telling murder stories: do we think in scripts, exemplars, or prototypes?. Behav. Sci. Law, 20: 119–139. doi: 10.1002/bsl.476 [4] Media Representations and Responsibilities: Australian Psychological Society [5] Vulnerability on fear of crime with respect to the victim of the crime: (LSERO_version).pdf [6] Effects of Race and Socioeconomic Status on Jury Decisions and Judgments - Stella Chen and-Judgments [7] Contribution Of Psychology To Understanding Of The Judge And Jury Decisions and-jury-decisions-1903040.html
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    Appendix Appendix 1: The Scripts of the videos used. Script

    of Video 1. L. R. Singhania is an honest, trust-worthy naval officer. He was the part of Battle against Somali Pirates. He fought brilliantly against them and he did not care about his life while protecting the citizens of India. He also receive Param Veer Chakra. He had a child with Parvati, his wife, a year ago. He was a caring and loving husband, intelligent, educated and god fearing man. One day, on returning home after 6 months, he finds out that her wife’s having an affair with another man named Peter. He feels disgusted, he feels cheated and loses temper. He goes to Peter’s place, confronts him, finds out that Peter was a bad man and shot him dead. Video 1 is the classical case of K. M. Nanavati, the case discussed in the introduction. Script of Video 2: P. Panchali is a police officer in the city of Gowardi, Madhya Pradesh. He was married to Prerna, seven years ago when he was just a police constable. His roaring success owes to his contacts with political parties and influential people. His only friend was money. He became the ‘gunda’ of the town. He set aside his ethics and morals and did what was needed to make money. He also used to beat up his wife. One fine day,he finds out that Prerna fell in love with Rajendra, tution teacher of their child. He went to the Rajendra’s home with a bunch of goons, they bullied him, and then Panchali shot him in the head. Essence of Video 3: Niranjan Shetty is a 17 years old ‘teenager’ who thinks that this whole life is a big holiday vacation for him. His dad is the CEO of, the upcoming social network of India. He is a spoilt kid. He hit another teenager with his car yesterday and fled the situation. The victim could have been saved if he would’ve been hospitalized in time. Story of Video 4: Ramsheel is a middle class guy who works double shifts a day to support and run his family. With two unmarried sisters and widowed mother, he finds it very hard to cope with the challenges in his daily life. Tired from this, he decides to kill himself. “But what good would that do to my family?” he thought, “In fact, their condition will become more terrible because I’m their only hope” So, he goes to Madarav, a local goon who give taxis on rent. He offers Ramsheel that he will provide him a taxi for free, but only in night. Ramsheel sees it as a golden opportunity and nodded in affirmation instantly. But he didn’t think about the consequences. After working hard all day long under the sun, he is extremely tired. After having dinner, he fills a thermos of tea that shall stop him from falling asleep during the night. But the destiny has something else planned for him, after fighting sleep for the next two hours, he couldn’t just resist it more. After a few minutes, he hit a man and finally realizes that he had fallen asleep and just killed a man. He tried saving him but the man already lost his breath. Script of Video 5: Aamir Khan is a well-known film celebrity. He is not known for the awesomeness of his films but also the awesomeness of his character. He is the most honest celebrity who wants to contribute to society and he only make movies that gives people a message. He recently donated Rs. 5 crore for the welfare of women and children, but did not boast about his this act of charity. He has been a part of many campaigns for social awareness like ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ and ‘clean voting’. He has never been afraid to voice his opinion against injustice or speak up for causes he believed in- irrespective of
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    the consequences of the feathers he ruffled. And he did

    step up for Satyamev Jayate- a show which didn’t wish to entertain but to educate. Amidst all these things, yesterday night, while returning from a party, he hit a man who was trying to cross the road. “I tried to save him but I couldn’t.”, says Aamir Khan. He adds, “I was drunk and was struggling to keep the control of his car, my phone rang. The distraction breaks my focus and car swerves to the left and I hit that man.” He demanded that he should be sent to jail because he deserves it. Script for Video 6: Amitabh Goswami is a bright high school student. He takes his studies seriously because he cannot afford all the fun and masti that a typical high school kid should. After his dad, an honest IAS, was killed by a politician for exposing the politician’s scam to the public, he is the only hope of the family to get out of this drastic situation. He is a hardworking student who wishes to clear iitjee to fulfil the wish of his dead father. One day, while returning from his coaching for IIT-JEE, he is hit by a truck. Truck driver was too fast to stop for traffic lights and in a flash, all the hopes of that family of IAS were burnt to ashes. Script for Video 7: A man could prove his masculinity by taming her wife. If a man’s wife isn’t in control, that man is not worth calling a man. This is the thinking of Akshay Malik, our next case subject. He is a drunkard who beats his wife, who not only works all day long to get some cash and food but also take care of the family, and kids. He is a careless husband and an irresponsible father. He only visits his family once a week on Saturday because that’s the day when Sheila, his wife, gets her weekly wage for the work she does. He lost most of her jewelry and her respect in gambling. She lost her left half ear during a fight with him. One day, after buying some booze, he is hit by a truck. Truck driver was too fast to stop for traffic lights and in a flash, he drops dead. Appendix 2: The result of the experiment. Sr. No. Good Character of the criminal: Video 1 Sr. No. Bad character of the Criminal: Video 2 1 5 years 1 14 years 2 4 years 2 14 years 3 5 years 3 14 years 4 7 years 4 14 years 5 9 years 5 14 years 6 14 years 6 14 years 7 11 years 7 14 years 8 8 years 8 14 years 9 9 years 9 14 years 10 7 years 10 14 years 11 13 years 11 14 years 12 13 years 12 14 years 13 12 years 13 14 years 14 7 years 14 14 years 15 14 years 15 14 years Average 9.2 years Average 14 years
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    Sr. No. Criminal is Rich and Powerful: Video 3 Sr.

    No. Criminal is poor and helpless 1 6 years 1 3 years 2 4 years 2 4 years 3 2 years 3 2 years 4 5 years 4 4 years 5 4 years 5 4 years 6 5 years 6 3 years 7 5 years 7 3 years 8 6 years 8 2 years 9 5 years 9 2 years 10 3 years 10 2 years 11 2 years 11 4 years 12 6 years 12 2 years 13 5 years 13 3 years 14 5 years 14 3 years 15 5 years 15 2 years Average 4.5 years Average 2.9 years Sr. No. Criminal is famous and popular 1 0.5 years 2 1 years 3 2 years 4 2 years 5 1 years 6 3 years 7 1.25 years 8 2 years 9 3 years 10 3 years 11 0.5 years 12 5 years 13 3 years 14 0.5 years 15 2 years Average 2.1 years
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    Sr. No. Victim is shown as a good man Sr.

    No. Victim is shown as a bad man 1 6 years 1 3 years 2 6 years 2 5 years 3 6 years 3 3 years 4 6 years 4 2 years 5 6 years 5 4 years 6 6 years 6 2 years 7 6 years 7 5 years 8 6 years 8 0 years 9 6 years 9 4 years 10 6 years 10 3 years 11 6 years 11 2 years 12 6 years 12 4 years 13 6 years 13 3 years 14 6 years 14 3 years 15 6 years 15 4 years Average 6 years Average 3.1 years