Term of Award

Fall 2012

Degree Name

Master of Science in Experimental Psychology (M.S.)

Document Type and Release Option

Thesis (open access)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Department of Psychology

Committee Chair

Amy Hackney

Committee Member 1

Lawrence Locker

Committee Member 2

Adam Bossler

Committee Member 3

Adam Bossler


The purpose of this study was to investigate the influence of phenotypic variation on criminal judgment. This study had two phases. In the first phase, participants rated multiple headshot photographs on the degree to which African American men possess pronounced Afrocentric features (fuller lips, broader nose, curlier hair, darker skin, etc.). The race of the participants predicted 34.2% of the variance in average skin color ratings above all other variables. White participants rated the Black faces as darker than any other participants rated the same faces. Researchers used the faces rated least, average, and most prototypical of Blacks as the targets for a criminal vignette in phase two. Controlling for participant political ideology and race, target Black prototypicality had a main effect on recommended years for the defendant to serve (Ruby & Brigham, 1996). The most prototypical defendant was more likely sentenced to prison time followed by a period of probation and to serve approximately six more years in the adult correction system than the least or average prototypical defendants. Phenotypic variation was a leading factor in the criminal judgment of African American men along with perceptions of the defendant, attitudes towards the legal system and Black people, and social Black 2 contact. These results have implications for understanding the saliency of phenotypic variation on target judgment and reevaluating the criminal legal process.

Research Data and Supplementary Material