Is guilt 'likely' or 'not certain'? Contrast with previous probabilities determines choice of verbal terms

Juanchich, Marie, Teigen, Karl H. and Villejoubert, Gaelle (2010) Is guilt 'likely' or 'not certain'? Contrast with previous probabilities determines choice of verbal terms. Acta Psychologica, 135(3), pp. 267-277. ISSN (print) 0001-6918

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This research focuses on what determines speakers' choice of positive and negative probability phrases (e.g., "a chance" vs. "not certain") in a legal context. We argue that choice of phrase to describe an event's probability of occurrence can be determined by the contrast between its current p value and an earlier p value, and not by that current value alone. Three experiments were conducted describing scenarios where profilers communicated a suspect's probability of guilt to the police. In the first study, a probability estimate is revised upwards or downwards. In the second one, the probability estimate of a speaker is higher or lower than that given by a previous speaker. In both cases, participants expected upward trends to lead to positive phrases, whereas downward trends were associated with negative phrases. In a third study, participants had to select probability phrases to characterize two different suspects. No contrast effects were found. We conclude that verbal probability directionality has primarily an argumentative function, where positive phrases are selected when probabilities are contrasted with smaller p values, and negative when contrasted with higher p values.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: uncertainty, verbal probabilities, directionality, legal context, judgments of guilt, upward and downward comparisons, communication, expressed uncertainties, alternative-outcomes, account, directionality, communication, preferences, quantifiers, hypothesis, decisions, language
Research Area: Psychology
Faculty, School or Research Centre: Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (until 2017) > School of Social Science (until November 2012)
Faculty of Business and Law (until 2017)
Faculty of Business and Law (until 2017) > Kingston Business School (Leadership, HRM and Organisation) (until July 2013)
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Depositing User: Gaelle Vallee-Tourangeau
Date Deposited: 01 Sep 2010 11:04
Last Modified: 22 Jan 2013 11:52

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