Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version

March 1998


Published in Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 28:16 (1998), pp. 1477–1502. Copyright © 1998 by V. H. Winston & Son, Inc.; published by Blackwell Publishing. Used by permission.


Two studies were performed to ascertain the effect of injury severity on participants’ judgments in a simulated jury task. Participants read a summary of a personal-injury case in which the severity of the plaintiff’s injury was varied: they were asked to judge the defendant’s liability, award compensation, and rate their feelings toward the litigants. In Study 1, more severely hurt plaintiffs were more likely to obtain a favorable verdict, even though evidence of liability was held constant. Greater severity influenced liability judgments only insofar as it elicited positive feelings toward the plaintiff or negative feelings toward the defendant. In Study 2, severity was found to have no effect when participants could not award damages, suggesting that more severe injuries arouse feelings for the litigants that are associated with a motivation to alleviate the plaintiffs suffering or to punish the defendant. Strategies for reducing the extralegal influence of injury severity are discussed.