Date of Award

Summer 8-2016

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Psychology

Committee Chair

Dr. Jon T. Mandracchia

Committee Chair Department

Psychology

Committee Member 2

Dr. Eric R. Dahlen

Committee Member 2 Department

Psychology

Committee Member 3

Dr. Emily B. Yowell

Committee Member 3 Department

Psychology

Committee Member 4

Dr. Melanie Leuty-Blackwell

Committee Member 4 Department

Psychology

Abstract

Public attitudes towards the death penalty appear to influence the usage of legislative policies about this highly debated sanction in the United States. However, existing ways of measuring public opinion about the death penalty are limited in the information they provide. As such, one purpose of the study was to further develop the Revised Attitudes towards the Death Penalty Scale (RATDP), an instrument that measures level of support for the death penalty and is inclusive of the rationales that both proponents and opponents use to justify their stance. Support for a five-factor structure of the RATDP was found in an exploratory factor analysis of an American non-student sample (N = 401) and then replicated in two separate confirmatory factor analyses utilizing non-student (N = 357) and student (N = 460) data. Initial evidence for the RATDP’s reliability and validity was also found, particularly among non-students. The study also further assessed the relationship between religious fundamentalism and death penalty support, as well as the moderating influence of forgiveness and revenge in this relationship in both samples of American non-students (N = 347) and students (N = 380). Forgiveness and revenge were not found to moderate the relationship between religious fundamentalism and death penalty support for either sample. However, religious fundamentalism, forgiveness, and revenge all predicted level of death penalty support among both non-students and students. The implications of conceptualizing death penalty attitudes as a multifaceted construct that is associated with multiple variables (e.g., religious fundamentalism, revenge, forgiveness) are discussed in terms of future research and jury selection in capital cases.

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