Examining the link between media representations and attitudes towards sexual offenders using a dual-process framework

Harper, Craig Andrew (2016) Examining the link between media representations and attitudes towards sexual offenders using a dual-process framework. PhD thesis, University of Lincoln.

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Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Item Status:Live Archive


Attitudes towards sexual offenders have been widely studied in forensic psychology and criminology research over the past 25 years. At present, however, studies examining these views are predominantly descriptive in nature. That is, self-report questionnaire measures are typically distributed to different groups (e.g., general public samples, and members of different occupational categories), with the resultant between-groups differences being reported in research papers. While these studies have provided some interesting findings, the results gained from them fail to inform researchers about the psychological mechanisms that underpin views about this offending population. The overarching aim of this thesis was to begin to fill this knowledge gap. That is, a range of studies were designed to use robust experimental methods, within validated theoretical paradigms, in order to examine some of the potential constructs that influence people’s attitudes towards sexual offenders.
Chapter 1 presents a review of the current state of the field in relation to attitudes towards sexual offenders, with gaps in current knowledge being identified. In Chapter 2, the theoretical framework within which the empirical aspects of the thesis operate is set out. Key constructs in this section include dual-process cognition, and our reliance on implicit (i.e., non-conscious) mental processes when making decisions. Chapter 3 builds upon criticisms of one measure of attitudes towards sexual offenders in order to reconceptualise its use into one of an outcome measure. This is then used throughout Chapters 4, 5, and 6 as a measure of sentencing and risk judgements, in order to examine the effects of various experimental manipulations. Studies presented in Chapter 4 found that heuristic-based processes based around the principles of availability appear to influence decision-making about sexual offenders at the macro (political) level, but not at the micro (individual) level. Instead, individual participants’ attitudes and judgements about sexual offenders were dependent on different primes relating to the representativeness (Chapter 5) and affect (Chapter 6) heuristics. Chapter 7 offers a discussion of the empirical findings presented at earlier points of the thesis, and outlines opportunities to develop further work into the heuristic-based nature of attitudes towards sexual offenders.
The work contained within this thesis is original, in that well-validated theoretical models are used to begin to examine the psychological mechanisms that may underpin attitudes
towards sexual offenders. The apparent dual-process nature of such views calls into question some previously-expressed calls within the literature that presenting fact-based information about sexual offenders may lead to improvements in societal attitudes. Instead, it may be that more indirect and emotional methods may be required to achieve such aims. Towards the end of the thesis, clear opportunities for further work are set out, as are some of the potential implications of this research.

Keywords:Sexual offenders, Media coverage, Methodology
Subjects:F Physical Sciences > F410 Forensic Science
C Biological Sciences > C840 Clinical Psychology
Divisions:College of Social Science > School of Psychology
ID Code:24742
Deposited On:18 Oct 2016 15:49

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