Honors Program Theses


Open Access Honors Program Thesis

First Advisor

Kimberly Maclin


The U.S. court system relies on the discretion of judges for most sentencing decisions. Even when there are sentencing guidelines, the judicial decision making process requires judges to use their discretion to determine the actual sentence. Personality characteristics play a role in juror decision making, as shown by studies of the effect of authoritarianism on verdicts (Narby, Culter, & Moran, 1993). Little research has focused on the personality characteristics of judges and what role they play in sentencing decisions. Judicial decision making is a debated topic as demonstrated by the fact that the Supreme Court heard the case Blakely v. Washington in August of 2004, a case about whether judges have the discretionary power to go beyond sentencing guidelines in federal cases. My goal was to evaluate the role of a particular personality characteristic, optimism, on these discretionary decisions by assessing the affect of this characteristic in a mock judicial making decision experiment. Undergraduate participants completed the Life Orientation Test (Scheier & Carver, 1985) to determine their levei of optimism as well as a questionnaire examining other factors, such as demographic information and political ideology. The participants then read a case summary vignette after which they were provided sentencing guidelines and instructed to make a sentencing decision for a case where the defendant was found guilty. Results showed a non-significant trend such that optimistic people may give shorter sentences than pessimistic people. Additionally, males were more confident in their decisions than females, and for all participants when confidence increased, sentence length increased. Political ideology proved to be an important factor with those participants rating themselves more socially liberal rendering shorter sentences than their conservative counterparts.

Year of Submission



Department of Psychology

University Honors Designation

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the designation University Honors


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Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (29 pages)