Student Activities 2007-2008
Presentation on perceptions of Muslim defendants versus Christian defendants
Carolina's Psychology Conference
Reactions to September 11th and the 'War on Terror' have instilled a fear of Middle Easterners and created a stigma associated with being Muslim. A recent Cornell report found that 44% of respondents believe some civil liberties should be curtailed for Muslims and 2/5 of respondents believe that Muslims should have special identification cards. Studies show similarities between a juror and defendant increase positive decisions for defendants. With 77% of Americans identifying with the Christian faith and only 0.5% identifying themselves as Muslim, the chance of a Muslim defendant and juror being the same religion is unlikely (Kohut & Rogers, 2002). Perceived differences between Muslims and Christians may be magnified in a courtroom leading to biased jury decisions. Participants were randomly assigned to read one of two scenarios describing a man arrested for attempting to carry a box-cutter on board an airliner. Participants were 131 university students (82 females; 49 males) in the southeast. The design was a between subjects, two group design. Participants indicated their perceptions of the defendant's guilt on a 20 item questionnaire and completed demographics information. The hypothesis that a Muslim defendant would be more likely to be found guilty and receive harsher punishment than would a Christian defendant was strongly supported. Participants also felt more threatened by a Muslim defendant and women tended to feel more threatened overall. Results indicate that participants exhibited a bias against Muslims arrested for crimes resembling a terrorist attack.