Shades of guilt: A mass media effects experiment answering why dark skin implies guilt for jurors

Date of Completion

January 1999


Journalism|Psychology, Social|Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies|Mass Communications




This dissertation extends from criticisms of Time magazine's decision to feature accused murderer O. J. Simpson on its cover with darker skin. Critics claimed Time was prejudicing potential jurors by darkening Simpson. Time claimed that those who believe dark skin symbolizes guilt are the real racists and that the magazine cover merely presented Simpson in a gloomy light. The results of the experiment address these criticisms in a scholarly scientific manner. ^ Central to this study is an analysis of how potential jurors/newsreaders make decisions about those accused of crimes. The experimental manipulation involves a news article detailing the arrest of an accused murderer. In some conditions, the accused man is pictured as either African American or European American with either light or dark skin tones. In other conditions, the accused is not described or is racially described as “white” or “black.” Various measures of news criticalness, racial and non-racial attitudes, and communication via analytic and syncretic cognition are used in the path models and regressions to highlight the influences of these attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors on decision-making. Response latency measures are also included to delineate the centrality of racial schemas to guilty verdicts. ^