The effects of psychiatric and “biological” labels on lay sentencing and punishment decisions

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20 Scopus citations


Objectives: This research, using focal concerns perspective on sentencing, examines how and why psychiatric labels, and having diagnoses biologically “labeled,” affect sentencing beliefs. Dimensions of public stigma toward psychiatric illnesses are hypothesized to mediate sentencing views. Methods: This is a 2 × 2 partially-crossed, between-subjects multifactorial experiment with a lay sample (n= 1213), presenting mediation analyses. Results: Four psychiatric labels (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, behavioral-variant Frontotemporal Dementia, High Functioning Autism, Borderline Intellectual Disability) led to significant beneficial effects on sentencing (less prison/rehabilitation support) as mediated by decreased stigmatization regarding lack of treatability, social acceptance, and personal responsibility. One biological “label” (Pedophilic Disorder) was mediated by decreased stigmatization (dangerousness), resulting in less prison support. Conclusions: Data support effects of psychiatric labeling on sentencing under focal concerns. As no psychiatric labels resulted in increased discriminatory sentencing and, instead, led to decreased discriminatory sentencing behavior, psychiatric labeling may reduce punitiveness and bolster non-punitive sentencing beliefs. Biological labeling, aside from Pedophilic Disorder, may not affect sentencing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)241-256
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Experimental Criminology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2018
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Law


  • Biology
  • Focal concerns
  • Labeling
  • Psychiatric illnesses
  • Sentencing
  • Stigmatization


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