Mark Rodlund

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Recently, there have been clinical psychologists appearing in court to testify as expert witnesses. However, the use of psychology in the legal system has a history dating back to Thucydides in the fifth century B.C. The early focus of psychology was on the determination of insanity. Later, eye witness testimony (especially of children as witnesses) was challenged in the courtroom using psychological principles. Children are increasingly used to testify as alleged abuse victims. This can result in a conflict between the accused person's right to view all witnesses testifying and the potential that the child would be further victimized by testifying.

All experts are supposed to provide the court with specialized knowledge. However, past research has suggested that a female expert's opinion may be accorded more weight than a male's, due to gender bias. The present study was designed to investigate this issue. Attribution theory was explored to provide tentative hypotheses.

One hundred sixty-five subjects participated in the study. Twenty-four were not university students and also served to provide information as to external validity. Subjects were randomly assigned to two groups, differing as to which of two videotaped trials they were exposed. In both trials a man was being tried on the charges of physically abusing a boy. The tapes differed only by gender of the expert witness. The testimony of the experts was similar in content and presentation. After the trial the subjects were asked to answer a questionnaire, deliberate and then finish the questionnaire.

The study had only partial external validity. There were discrepancies between the student and non-student populations on a large number of variables, including age, number of children and level of education. However, educational achievement was similar. There was a significant difference between the sex of the expert witness and the verdict reached. None of the juries exposed to the female expert's testimony could reach a verdict. Juries exposed to the male expert's testimony were variable in their verdicts. Both experts' testimony was rated convincing. Female subjects were more extreme in rating the performances of the experts and attorneys. One's adherence to traditional gender roles did not affect one's final verdict.

Included in

Psychology Commons