Seeing Red: Disgust Reactions to Gruesome Photographs in Color (but not in Black and White) Increase Convictions

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Jurors are often exposed to emotionally disturbing gruesome photographs of victims of extreme violence. Judges must determine whether the informational value of these photographs outweighs their prejudicial effect on jurors and are left to their assumptions about juror psychology to do so. The current research draws upon the affect infusion model (AIM; Forgas, 1995) to investigate the affective mechanism through which gruesome photographs might operate. A mock jury experiment presented online adults (n = 193) with murder trial evidence that included verbal descriptions of the victim’s injuries and neutral photographs in all conditions. Participants were randomly assigned to view (a) only the nongruesome photographs or additional gruesome photographs of the victim in (b) color, or (c) black and white (B&W). Color gruesome (vs. nongruesome) photographs increased convictions via the disgust they elicited. Consistent with the AIM, this was especially so for mock jurors with relatively higher awareness of their bodily sensations. The effects of gruesome photographs in color on disgust and verdicts were eliminated, however, when the same photographs were presented in B&W. A second experiment (n = 354) replicated these results and also revealed that viewing color gruesome photographs significantly reduced mock jurors’ sensitivity to a manipulation of defense evidence strength—especially among jurors with relatively higher bodily awareness. Thus, gruesome photographs can increase convictions via direct and indirect affect infusion. Presenting gruesome photographs in B&W might reduce jurors’ emotional reactions while maintaining their probative information.

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