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Who should've known better? Judgments of negligent sexual transmission of an STD as a function of STD type, litigant sexual orientation, and commitment

Samantha L Schwartz, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


People tend to blame individuals who contract HIV from sexual conduct, particularly between men. However, this tendency may not be as straightforward when the perceiver weighs judgments of the victim against judgments of the harmdoer. This study examined whether mock juror decision making about negligent transmission of an STD varied as a function of case factors and individual decision-maker characteristics. Undergraduate mock jurors made a number of legal and psychological judgments, based on an audio-taped civil trial transcript that varied by the type of STD transmitted (HIV or genital herpes), litigant sexual orientation (heterosexual or gay), and type of commitment between the litigants during their sexual relationship (one-night stand, 8 month commitment, 5 year commitment including cohabitation, or 5 year commitment including marriage). Mock jurors also completed a series of individual difference measures. Findings revealed that some of the case factors led to more favorable judgments of the plaintiff, whereas other case factors had the opposite effect. Mock jurors tended to find the plaintiff more responsible when type of commitment was less serious. This was evident in verdict judgments of the heterosexual litigants such that mock jurors were more likely to favor the plaintiff in the eight-month commitment condition, compared to the plaintiff in the one-night stand condition. Some of the effects of the case factors depended on mock juror gender. For example, men’s verdict judgments were (somewhat) more biased in favor of the plaintiff when the plaintiff was gay and when type of STD was genital herpes, whereas women’s verdict judgments tended to reflect the opposite effects. Judgments also differed by individual differences in HIV stigma, antifemininity bias, and religious fundamentalism, but some of those differences depended on litigant sexual orientation and type of commitment. For example, mock jurors with stronger religious fundamentalist beliefs were more likely to punish the defendant overall, but they were particularly likely to punish the heterosexual defendant who had a one-night stand with the plaintiff and the defendant who had a same-sex marriage to the plaintiff, suggesting that the pairings of those case factors incited the influence of religious fundamentalist beliefs on verdict judgments.

Subject Area

Law|Social psychology|Personality psychology

Recommended Citation

Schwartz, Samantha L, "Who should've known better? Judgments of negligent sexual transmission of an STD as a function of STD type, litigant sexual orientation, and commitment" (2010). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI3412887.