Honors Program


Date of this Version


Document Type



Eccles, D. (2023). Social Class and Gender Privileges’ Impact on Empathy and Punishment. Undergraduate Honors Thesis. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Copyright Dawson Eccles 2023.


This thesis analyzes the impact of privilege on empathy and punishment severity decisions. The research project examines social privilege—the experience of an advantage available only to a particular group—as it relates to social class and gender. This analysis provided some insight into how one’s own experiences of privilege impact their view and treatment of others. Specifically, whether a type of bias is formed from these experiences. The project consists of secondary analyses of data collected by the Culture, Conflict, and Law Lab in 2021. The dataset, collected from Amazon's Mechanical Turk service, consists of 198 participants (48.5% men and 49% women). We gave participants a fictitious criminal case that detailed a theft and a description of a defendant, Michael Carlsson. Participants then answered questions relating to punishment of and empathy for the defendant. Punishment was operationalized as an item of the perceived proper punishment severity. I found a significant result in that empathy significantly predicted punishment severity decisions. However, there were no significant effects revealed in the rest of the privilege hypothesis analyses. Exploratory analyses examining whether social class and gender privilege predict the endorsement of different punishment theories revealed marginally significant effects. Further research into this topic is necessary to understand the relationship between all of these variables. The findings of this study provide insight into how an individual’s own privilege identities impact their decision-making about another’s deserved punishment. The results are relevant for law psychology and legal professionals (e.g., a lawyer may need such information when selecting a jury). These analyses will provide a basis for future research on how privileged identities impact decision-making concerning the deserved punishment for another person.