News and Notes

A Newsletter for Faculty and Staff of Idaho State University

February 7, 2011 — Vol. 27 No. 6

ISU Researcher Studies Celebrity Trials

Maria Wong

In general, college students who participated in mock juries were more likely to convict celebrities for murder in fake cases based on real events, according to a recent study published in the North American Journal of Psychology.

"Overall, students were more likely to convict the movie star, which was contrary to our expectations," said Maria Wong, Idaho State University associate professor of psychology, who was one of five co-principal investigators on the study. "After a number of high-profile cases in recent years involving celebrities who were acquitted from serious crimes, we expected different results."

Participants in the study who identified themselves as "celebrity worshipers," as determined by their score on the Celebrity Attitude Scale, were less likely to convict a movie star, but overall, the students were more likely to convict a movie star.

The students served as mock jurors in a murder trial involving a movie star celebrity in one condition, a televangelist celebrity in another and an office worker in a third.

All three defendants were described as good-looking and were given first-rate legal representation. The trial transcript was manipulated in order to follow the advice of a famous lawyer who claims to have a formula, "the Dubin defense," for successfully defending celebrity clients. Results showed that the movie star was marginally more likely to be convicted than the other two, when their categories were combined.

The total sample consisted of 199 jury-eligible college students, 66 males and 133 females from four public universities, one each in the southeastern, northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and northwestern United States. The students ranged in age from 17 to 51.

The other researchers who were authors on the study "Are Celebrities Charged with Murder Likely to be Acquitted" were Alan Goodboy from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, Michael P. Murtagh from Frostburg State University in Maryland, Amy Hackney of Georgia Southern University and North American Journal of Psychology Editor Lynn McCutcheon.