The project investigated how one’s mental health literacy (ML) affected punitiveness toward a person convicted of a crime. We hypothesized that participants with higher ML scores would recommend more lenient sentences than those with lower ML scores. Additionally, we hypothesized that participants assigned to the physical illness condition (i.e., brain tumour) versus mental illness (i.e., Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)) would recommend more lenient sentences, regardless of ML. Participants were recruited from two samples: the general population, and an undergraduate psychology student sample. Individuals were randomly assigned to read a vignette scenario describing a criminal case of aggravated assault in an online study. The vignette scenarios differed in description of defendant’s mitigating factors (high blood pressure, brain tumour, or PTSD). Based on the scenario, participants were instructed recommend a sentence. They then filled out two ML scales. Factorial ANOVAs were conducted to evaluate differences between recommended sentence length as a function of condition and mental health knowledge. A main effect was found between the sentence length and ML, wherein those with lower ML scores recommended harsher sentences overall compared to those with higher ML scores (p = .006). Though significance was found, further testing is needed to garner higher power. Implications include the potential to influence the current jury selection process. It may also educate about current biases amongst jury members.
Bernier, E., & Boyce, M. A. (2019). Mental health literacy: Amount of knowledge influences sentencing outcomes. University of Calgary, Department of Psychology, Calgary, AB.