Trial by Tabloid: Can Implicit Bias Education Reduce Pretrial Publicity Bias?

AuthorAngela M. Jones,Courtney N. Meyers,Christine Ruva,Kimberly A. Wong
Published date01 February 2022
Date01 February 2022
Subject MatterArticles
CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND BEHAVIOR, 2022, Vol. 49, No. 2, February 2022, 259 –278.
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© 2021 International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology
Can Implicit Bias Education Reduce Pretrial
Publicity Bias?
Texas State University
University of South Florida
The Western District of Washington recently developed an educational video to reduce jurors’ implicit biases. Little is known
regarding the effectiveness of this proposed remedy to address a range of implicit biases. This study tested whether this
educational video reduces pretrial publicity (PTP) bias. A total of 330 undergraduate participants were randomly assigned to
read PTP or unrelated articles. An average of 9 days later, they were randomly assigned to watch the educational video prior
to viewing a murder trial. Those exposed to PTP were more likely to convict and found the defendant more culpable and less
credible. The educational video did not reduce PTP bias. A more tailored debiasing strategy may be needed to overcome the
biasing effects of PTP. Differences in legal decisions also emerged depending on whether participants completed the second
phase in-person or online, which has implications for future data collection modes.
Keywords: juror decision-making; pretrial publicity; bias; debiasing strategies
Pretrial publicity (PTP) involves media coverage of criminal or civil cases through medi-
ums such as newspapers, television, and social media. Exposure to PTP can bias a variety
of legal decisions, which threatens a defendant’s Fifth Amendment right to due process and
Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial by an impartial jury of one’s peers (Kramer et al.,
1990; Otto et al., 1994; Ruva, 2018; Steblay et al., 1999). In a more far-reaching effect, PTP
can compromise the public’s confidence in the legal system (Doyle, 2017). Courts rely on
the process of voir dire to identify and eliminate biased jurors prior to trial; yet this tradi-
tional remedy has largely failed to reduce biased decision-making (Kramer et al., 1990;
AUTHORS’ NOTE: Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Angela M. Jones, School
of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Texas State University, 601 University Dr., San Marcos, TX 78666;
1026956CJBXXX10.1177/00938548211026956Criminal Justice and BehaviorJones et al. / Trial by Tabloid
Ruva, 2018). Recently, courts have proposed new remedies, notably educational videos and
modified jury instructions that are increasing in popularity (Roberts, 2018). Yet, no empiri-
cal evidence supports its effectiveness for reducing PTP-related biases. This study seeks to
test the effectiveness of the unconscious bias juror video currently used in the Western
District of Washington (U.S. District Court, Western District of Washington, 2017).1
Various dual-process theorists ascribe to the idea that people generally engage in two
types of cognitive processing (Evans, 2008). These are commonly referred to as Systems 1
and 2 processing (Stanovich & West, 2000; see also heuristic and systematic processing of
the heuristic systematic model, Chaiken, 1980; and peripheral and central routes to persua-
sion of the elaboration likelihood model, Petty & Cacioppo, 1986). System 1 cognitive
processing is more intuitive, automatic, implicit, and emotional; in contrast, System 2 is
slower, conscious, effortful, and logical (Kahneman, 2011; Stanovich & West, 2000; see
Evans, 2008 for review of dual-process theories). System 1 thinking is more efficient than
System 2, but reliance on implicit assumptions and biases may result in faculty judgments
(Kahneman, 2011; Milkman et al., 2009).
Implicit biases include unconscious feelings, fears, perceptions, and stereotypes (e.g.,
bias blind spot, PTP bias, racial bias, and confirmation bias; Bennett, 2010; Morewedge
et al., 2015). Relevant to this study, most media coverage of a case prior to trial is antide-
fendant in nature (Lieberman & Sales, 2007). Exposure to antidefendant information can
bias jurors, resulting in increased perceptions of culpability and likelihood of conviction
compared to those not exposed to PTP (Kerr et al., 1999; Otto et al., 1994; Ruva et al., 2007,
2011). These biases may be stronger in more serious cases, which receive greater amounts
of PTP (Lieberman & Sales, 2007).
The effects of PTP are exacerbated as the time delay between PTP exposure and the ver-
dict decision lengthens (Steblay et al., 1999). This may be due to source misattribution,
which occurs when an individual cannot recall where the memory originates from (Johnson
et al., 1993). The longer the delay between PTP and the trial, the more likely it is for source
misattribution to occur (Ruva, 2018; Ruva & McEvoy, 2008; see also Frost et al., 2002).
Jurors commit these source attribution errors at high rates despite confidence that they are
only considering evidence presented at trial (Ruva & Guenther, 2015). For example, PTP-
exposed jurors made nearly three times the critical source-memory errors as jurors without
a similar exposure (Ruva & Guenther, 2015). Jurors are more likely to convict as the num-
ber of source misattributions increase (Ruva et al., 2007; Ruva & Guenther, 2015; Ruva &
McEvoy, 2008). The combination of source attribution errors and overconfidence may
explain why one type of courtroom remedy, a trial continuance, has been largely ineffective
at reducing PTP bias and may in fact exacerbate the problem (Ruva, 2018).
Past research indicates that PTP influences verdict and related guilt judgments through
mechanisms such as impressions of the defendant’s credibility and emotional responses
(see Ruva, 2018 for review). Exposure to pretrial information about a defendant can cause
jurors to develop an early, typically negative impression of the defendant (Ruva et al., 2007;
Ruva & Guenther, 2015; Ruva & McEvoy, 2008). This negative impression distorts the
interpretation of evidence during trial, increasing perceptions of defendant culpability
(Ruva et al., 2011). In addition, PTP that elicits negative emotions, such as anger,

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