Date of Award

January 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Karyn Plumm


Sex offender treatment, policy, and perception are greatly intertwined in the numerous policies in place. Current policies tend to reflect negative perceptions toward both sex offenders and treatment and an inaccurate view of the effectiveness of current sex offender policies. The source of these inaccurate views, however, is not entirely clear, with some researchers linking it to a simple lack of exposure to accurate information. Additionally, the broadly negative perceptions, emotions, and beliefs may be leading individuals to utilize more superficial routes of processing, as explained by the Elaboration Likelihood Model. Given the potential for the public’s opinion to make a significant impact on the direction of future policies and treatment support, understanding what influences these perceptions could offer valuable information for the future.

Three hundred twenty-three UND students were randomly assigned to six groups receiving information on either sex offender treatment or policies using difference presentation styles to examine how presentation style and accurate information may influence their understanding and support of sex offender treatment and policies. Scales were created or used from existing measures that reflected attitudes toward sex offenders, sex offender treatment, knowledge or support of sex offender policies, and need for cognition. These scales were completed prior to and following the information sections to determine if the provided information influenced their understanding, perceptions, and support. A series or ANOVAs were conducted and significant main effects found such that policy information led to greater policy support, those who were presented with information in a non-narrative, statistics based presentation style had a significant increase in policy awareness, support, and belief in policy effectiveness, and those that were high in need for cognition exhibiting a decrease in negative attitudes toward sex offenders. The findings indicate that providing accurate information about sex offenders, even in persuasive ways, may not change their beliefs, and that further research on those more intrinsically invested in research or this particular topic or with those more notably different in their route of processing may provide more conclusive information on how to persuade the public to believe the research instead of their long-standing inaccurate perceptions.