Why Does Occupational Prestige Affect Sentencing Outcomes? Exploring the Perceptual Mediators

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Abstract

Research on the effect of an offender’s occupational prestige on criminal sentencing shows mixed results, with some studies showing a positive association between prestige and sentence severity and others showing a negative association. We revisit this question using an online vignette experiment. Drawing on affect control theory and its computer program, Interact, we hypothesize that an offender’s occupational prestige will increase the recommended sentence and that post-crime, or transient, impressions of the offender’s potency will mediate this effect. We find support for both hypotheses: Occupational prestige increases the recommended sentence, and post-crime impressions of the offender’s potency mediate this effect. The mediation is partial when potency is measured with semantic differentials, and it is complete when potency is measured with a set of explicit, denotative items. We also explore the mediational role of post-crime impressions of the offender’s evaluation and activity. Although offender activity does not function as a mediator, offender evaluation plays a minor mediational role when offender potency is also controlled. We also find an interaction between post-crime offender evaluation and potency, with participants recommending a lighter sentence for offenders they see as both weak and evaluatively neutral. We discuss the empirical, theoretical, and methodological implications of these findings and outline avenues for future research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)148-172
Number of pages25
JournalAmerican Behavioral Scientist
Volume67
Issue number1
DOIs
StateAccepted/In press - 2022

Keywords

  • affect control theory
  • occupational crime
  • vignette experiment

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