Individuals in the UK can be held criminally responsible from the age of 10. As such, perceptions that are held by the public regarding individuals at this age can differ hugely and is an important topic regarding the accountability of people’s actions in society. In addition to age, the gender of a perpetrator may very well also have an effect on people perceptions of accountability in an individual. In this study, participants will read 1 of 4 possible novel scenarios about a perpetrator who commits a crime. 2 between subjects factors were manipulated, age of the perpetrator (age 12 vs 30), and gender (Male vs female). Each participant will respond to these scenarios using a likert scale to show how accountable they thought the perpetrator was and to show this by suggesting a sentence. Here, we hope to find a main effect of age on accountability and a main effect of gender on accountability, as well as an interaction effect of both facts on accountability.
Accountability is defined as “being answerable to audiences for performing up to certain prescribed standards, thereby fulfilling obligations, duties, expectations and other charges” (Schlenker, Britt, Pennington, Murphy & Doherty, 1994). Tetlock developed the initial concepts of accountability and proposed that accountability is vital in linking the individual levels of behaviour to social systems, as it binds people to collective social norms, letting people know who to answer to and for what, and the grounds for their accountability (1985). Vance, Lowry and Eggett (2013) explain that accountability can be viewed in two ways, the first as a virtue and the second as a mechanism. When viewed as a virtue, they explain accountability as a quality in which an individual is willing to accept responsibility, which is a positive desirable behaviour for those who hold a position of power in the public and in government. When viewed as a mechanism, Accountability is seen as a process in which an individual is obligated to explain his/her actions to someone who can pass judgment on them i.e. prosecution, as well as subject them to the potential consequences of their actions.
Early work by E.D. Smith and Hed showed that younger defendants were more likely to receive more lenient sentences than defendants. This was further supported in Bergeron and McKelvie (2004) where both type of crime and defendant age were manipulated. Here, participants read about either a murder or a theft, and the defendant was either 20, 40 or 60 years old. In the results, they found that there was an inverted-U in the results, where 20 and 60 year old defendants were given less harsh sentences than the 40 year old defendants for the murder scenarios. In addition, Pozzulo, Dempsey, Maeder, & Allen (2009) found that female victims were perceived as more credible than male victims and this was exemplified further when the defendant was male and older. They express their concerns later on as the findings in the study suggest that female perpetrators are not held as accountable as male perpetrators and also do not received sentences that are equal in severity. They concluded that victim age, defendant age as well as crime type may influence verdict decision making. Ghetti and Redlich (2001) supports the idea that age does play a key role in perception of accountability. They found that college students perceived younger offenders as less accountable for their actions as they rated them as less culpable and less able to understand their legal situation. This is further supported in a study conducted by Varma (2006) which found that in general having any information about a young offender, regardless of the details, resulted in the public giving more favourable ratings.
When looking at Rape myth Acceptance (RMA), very few studies have looked at how blame attributions change based on the perpetrators gender. This is because it is generally assumed that most perpetrators are male and the victims are female. However, Gerber et al (2004) had a couple of findings which were interesting. The first being that both male and female offenders generally received more blame when the victim was female. The second being that female offenders appear to be more likeable than male offenders, regardless of the gender of the victim.
Evidently, previous studies on accountability have failed to look at an interaction between the two factors on defendant accountability. As they mainly focus on looking at either Gender or Age as a main effect and not an interaction, it is clear that this interaction is worth exploring and could prove to be practically beneficial. The rationale behind this study will be to see if both age and gender both affect how regular individuals perceive accountability in offenders. In contrast to crime type and outcome, which are usually expected to affect perceptions of accountability, we decided to introduce two other factors that could possibly alter perceptions of accountability further. So, this study will be looking at the effect of age on accountability in offenders in different scenarios, as well as looking at an effect of gender on accountability in the same scenarios. This study will also hope to find an interaction between age/gender and accountability in the same scenarios. This will be measured using questionnaires where participants will rate the offender’s accountability in the scenario as well as how serious they thought the crime was and to justify it with a suitable sentence. The first main hypothesis for this study is that defendant age will influence participants’ perceptions of accountability in a novel scenario. The second main hypothesis for this study is that defendant gender will influence participants’ perceptions of accountability in a novel scenario. The last main hypothesis for this study is that there will be an interaction between Defendants age and gender on participant’s perceptions of accountability in a novel scenario.
The main objective of this study will be to investigate what factors affect/determine the extent to which people hold others accountable for their crimes. This study will also be looking at the potential age and gender biases involved when looking at offender accountability and the sentences given to the offender due to the age/gender of the perpetrator in the scenario given to the participants. Although lay people are not usually required to decide upon a sentence for the crime given, we decided that having participants give a sentence based on the scenario would be a useful way to measure perceptions of deserved punishment. This would also be useful as it would act a second measure of accountability in participants and so if the participants perceives the defendant as more accountable, the sentences that are suggested should be harsher.
The proposed number of participants will be a minimum of 128 participants. In each condition, there will be a minimum of 32 participants. This sample size is based on Cohen (1992) where in order to detect a moderate effect size (f=.25) with a 2 X 2 between subject design with α of .05 at 80% Power, 128 participants are required. . The intended sample for this study will be mainly English speaking undergraduate students, who are mainly between the ages of 18 and 22, from a number of ethnic background representative of the general population. Only participants who complete the questionnaire will be included. Also, participants will need to be over the age of 18 and be a UK resident to take part, this will be stated in the social media advert for the study which will include the link to the questionnaire. Participants who do not will have their data destroyed and data will not be used in analysis. Participants will be recruited using a social media advert that will be shared using Facebook and Twitter, with a link being provided leading participants directly to Qualtrics.
Here, 2 parallel and 2 different scenarios will be created and assigned to different participants. Participants will only receive one scenario each. Here, 2 factors will be manipulated in each scenario. The first was the perpetrators age, which was either 12 or 30 years old. These ages were chosen because in the UK, offenders can be held criminally responsible from the age of 10. The first age was chosen as it is tends to represent a midway point between pre and mid adolescence, indicating that the offender may not be fully aware of their actions and naïve. The second age was selected as it will be a fully grown adult who is often aware of the consequences of their actions and will often have a rationale for offending. The second factor that was manipulated was the gender of the offender being either Male or female. The reason for this being looked into is because most studies focus primarily on age regarding offender accountability and the majority of studies looking at gender are often RMA studies. Here, adding a factor of age as well as gender could perhaps be beneficial in looking at an interaction effect on accountability. This study will be conducted using a questionnaire/survey on Qualtrics where each participants will take part in a different condition with only 1 scenario. The 2 independent variables (IV’s) here are Gender (Male/Female) and age (12/30 years old) with 2 levels each. The dependant variable (DV) here will be offenders’ accountability i.e. how accountable people hold others for their crimes and seek to punish them. Both quantitative and qualitative data will be gathered here at an interval level. This will all be analysed using 2 X 2 complex between subjects ANOVA.
Each participant taking part in the study will be presented with 1 scenario which will be randomised for every participant. An example of a scenario is presented below with the different possible variation in brackets.
Jack (Male or female name) is a 30 year old (12 or 30 year old) male who was arrested following a fight which resulted in the victim being hospitalised with various injuries including a broken nose, fractured ribs and considerable bruising (Crime ranging from very serious to not very serious).
The questionnaire will include a brief demographics section where participants will have to state their age, gender and occupation. This will be before the scenario is presented. After reading the scenario presented to them, participants will give their answer on how accountable they hold the offender using a 7 point Likert scale, where they indicated their agreement or disagreement with the statement from 1 to 7 (1= Strongly disagree and 7 = Strongly agree). For example, how much do you agree with this statement – “The crime given for this crime was completely fair and appropriate?” Participants would then express their agreement or disagreement using the 7 point scale. Participants will then be asked to give a suitable sentence to the offender in the scenario given. Participants will be asked to give a sentence as it a second measure of accountability, so if participants hold the person in the scenario more accountable, the sentence given here will reflect it as it is harsher. Qualitative data will be used to assess how appropriate participants think the punishment is and how accountable they hold the offender.
A short social media advert will be shared on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter where participants who want to take part simply do so by clicking on the link attached to it. Each participants will have a random scenario presented to them. After reading the information sheet and consent form, participants will read the written scenario and questionnaires to themselves and answer the questions alone.
Participants will first answer questions about themselves, such as their age, gender and occupation. Qualtrics will randomise the scenarios given for every participant and so each person will read 1 of 4 possible scenarios. After reading the scenario, participants will decide how accountable they hold the offender and decide upon a sentence for the offender, dependant on the scenario. Participants will then be fully debriefed at the end of the questionnaire where there will be helplines to contact. Qualtrics will collate all the data before it will be analysed using SPSS.