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Going with your gut: The effects of emotion on perceptions of liability in fast food litigation

Amy M Humke, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Two studies examined the influence of emotion both related and unrelated to a fast food obesity lawsuit. Participants read trial vignettes, opening statements, and closing arguments for a fast food obesity case in which the plaintiff claimed to have developed cardiovascular disease as a result of regularly consuming food from a fast food chain that was unreasonably high in fat, sodium, cholesterol, and calories. Emotion related to the case was induced through the opening statement and closing arguments while unrelated emotion was induced through an autobiographical writing task. The hypothesis was that participants induced to experience anger, an emotion associated with human agency, would place more responsibility upon the human agents involved in the case: the industry CEO or the plaintiff. By contrast, participants induced to experience sadness, an emotion associated with situational agency, would place more responsibility upon the situational agents: the industry and the plaintiff's family history of disease. There were no specific hypotheses for the influence of related and unrelated emotions. Results of this study indicated that the emotion inductions were unsuccessful. The best indicators of verdict preference were attitudes toward the industry, attitudes toward fast food plaintiffs, BMI, and perceived similarity to the plaintiff. As expected, favorable attitudes were associated with favorable verdicts for the associated party. Those who perceived themselves to be more similar to the plaintiff or with higher BMI scores were more likely to assign more responsibility to the defendant. ^

Subject Area

Law|Psychology, Social

Recommended Citation

Humke, Amy M, "Going with your gut: The effects of emotion on perceptions of liability in fast food litigation" (2008). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3308321.