Psychology and the courtroom (Cognitive)


Dixon (2002): The role of accent and context in pe

How juries can be persuaded by the characterisitcs of witnesses and defendants: 

Attractiveness, race, language, accent, confidence, dress. 

Theories on which the study is based-

Giles & Powesland- accents may affect listeners' impressions of speakers. 

standard accents are rated more positively than non-standard accents, especially on traits assocaited wth competence or status. 

Therefore, accent may systematically disadvantage speakers in such institutional contexts as job interviews, medical consultations and classsrooms (Kalin) 

'Third-class' urban accents are evaluated more negatively than either rural regional or British recieved pronunciation (RP) accents (Giles)

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Dixon (2002): Background

Seggie: investigated the effects of three local accents: BRP, broad Australian and Asian. Seggie found that the suspect's accent significantly influenced raters' responses but that the nature varied as a function of crie type (blue collar, white collar)

BRP- spoken in south of England 

Blue-collar crime- lower social class, typically fuelled with anger, passion, e.g burglary, theft, assaults

White-collar crime- generally committed in a business setting, non-violent. e.g fraud, forgery, embezzlement. 

The Brummie accent- features in accent evaluation since early 1970s- negative evaluation 

Study aimed to further document the evaluative consequences of accent in legal context by investigating the influence of an English regional accent.

Main hypothesis- 'A Brummie-accented suspect will elicit stronger attributions of guilt than a standard-accented suspect 

This researchalso examined the effects of two contextual variables on teh attribution of guilt: suspect's race and the type of crime committed.

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Dixon (2002): Research method

Lab experiment 

IV: which condition a participant was assigned to- Brummie/Standard 

Race of suspect: black/white

Crime type-  Blue collar/White collar 

DV: participants' attributions of guilt. 

The study therefore had a 2 x 2 x 2 factorial design 

Independent measures design 

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Dixon (2002): Outline of study

Took place in the Department of Psychology at the University College, Worcester, 

Sample- 119 undergraduate psychology students who took part as course requirements

As the focus on the reactions of individuals who did not speak with a Brummie accent, ppts who grew up in Birmingham were excluded from the sample. 

Participants were randomly allocated to one of the conditions. They were asked to listen to a 2 min recorded conversation based on a transcript of an interview that occured in a British police station in 1995. the conversation featured a middle-aged male police inspector interrogating a young male suspect who pleaded his innocence to a crime he had been accused.    

Actors hired for the purposes of the study played both speakers.

The race of the suspect was manipulated by varying the racial cues provided by repondents. At one point in the interview, the police inspector provided a physical description of the person who committed the crime and this description was systematically altered across experimental conditions. 

After listening to the tape, ppts completed 2 sets of rating scales, First they rated the suspect's guilt. Secon, they rated the suspect more generally by completing the Speech Evaluation Instrument  (SEI) omnibus measure of language attitudes 

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Dixon (2002): Results & Conclusions & Application

The Brummie suspect was rated as more guilty than the RP suspect

There was a three-way interaction: Brummie/black/blue-collar crime had significantly highrt guilt ratings than the other 5 conditions 


Attributions of guilt may be affected by accent in a British context. 

A suspect's percieved authority and superiority may predict whether they are guilty or not. 

Juries may be influenced and peruaded by the characteristics of witnesses and defendants.


1 strategy to influence the jury decision making:

CSI effect, impact of fMRI scans, using order presentation of evidence (story order and witness order)m using expert witnesses, the Yale model of persuasion, use of rhetorical strategies.

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