Public opinion on wrongful convictions swayed by entertainment series, study finds

phys.org | 9/4/2018 | Staff
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Americans are hooked on the Netflix series When They See Us, which reconstructs the true story of five Harlem teens falsely accused of a brutal crime.

But a new study suggests entertainment programs about cases of wrongful conviction actually change public opinion more effectively than facts or statistics.

Finding - Kevin - Mullinix - Assistant - Professor

That's the finding of Kevin Mullinix, assistant professor of political science at the University of Kansas. His article (co-written with Robert Norris) titled "Framing Innocence: An Experimental Test of the Effects of Wrongful Convictions on Public Opinion" can be found this month in the Journal of Experimental Criminology.

"Advocacy organizations often want to know, 'How do we persuade people to care about this issue and support policy reforms?' Our study would suggest that if you want people to support policy change, then you probably want to communicate accurate information through narratives and stories," Mullinix said.

Mullinix - National - Registry - Exonerations - Individuals

Mullinix noted that according to the National Registry of Exonerations, nearly 2,500 individuals in the United States were exonerated after being found guilty of crimes they did not commit over the last 30 years. Those convicted served an average of almost nine years in prison.

"When we give people numbers about a society, they think broadly, and it impacts things like their trust in the justice system," he said. "When we give them a narrative such as When They See Us that elicits emotional reactions, they get concerned and actively want change."

Mullinix - Expert - Opinion - Policy - Norris

Mullinix, an expert in public opinion and public policy, and Norris (author of "Exonerated: A History of the Innocence Movement") began discussing this project while both were faculty members at Appalachian State University. They were first prompted by the Serial podcast, the Netflix docuseries Making a Murderer and increasing media attention to wrongful convictions.

"Any time there is an important problem in society that's getting media attention, I usually want to know...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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