Mariah Sorby

Date of Award

January 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Andre Kehn


Stereotypes and prejudice have been shown to bias information processing and decision making. There are physical traits that are stereotypically associated with criminals, i.e. tattoos, dark skin-tone, facial untrustworthiness, Afrocentric facial features. These features have been shown to influence verdict decisions and sentencing outcomes. However, there is a paucity of research investigating the additive effects of these features while also considering individual levels of prejudice and egalitarian views. The current research aimed to investigate the effects of several combinations of features on defendant verdict, sentencing, and criminal appearance ratings, rather than assessing the features in isolation, while controlling for prejudice and motivation to respond without prejudice. Study 1 examined the effects of tattoos, facial trustworthiness, and skin tone, and Study 2 examined the effects of tattoos, Afrocentric features, and skin tone. While controlling for the effects of prejudice and egalitarian views, physical traits did not have direct effects on case judgments but did affect perceived criminal appearance which in turn predicted verdict, suggesting criminal stereotype activation mediates the relationship between physical traits and case judgments. Additionally, prejudice and motivation to be non-prejudiced had several individual and interactive effects with physical traits, suggesting that the effects of physical traits may depend on individual attitudes. Implications and future directions are discussed.