When it comes to deciding whether or not an individual had intent, watching a video recording can make the difference between life and death for the guilty person. Therefore, scientists did an experiment that shows how people can be biased by a slow motion clip.
The purpose was to determine if the viewers were prone to consider people filmed in slow motion as acting with premeditation in a deliberate, willful act.
The results showed that indeed, jurors that had been shown a video in slow motion with the guilty person were inclined to assign more responsibility to the individual involved than when presented with a short clip in real-time view.
Guilty or Not Guilty
The study was designed by a team of scientists from the University of Virginia, University of Chicago and the University of San Francisco.
The authors take as an example the trial of John Lewis who was recorded by a surveillance camera while fatally shooting a police officer in the midst of an armed robbery. The scientists believe that the fact the jury was presented with the video in slow motion might have been decisive in convicting the guilty person. Instead of receiving a verdict of second-degree murder and face the possibility of lifetime prison, Lewis was sentenced to death.
The experiment included presenting volunteers a five-second video of an armed robbery. In the clip, the robber shoots a sales person. The group who viewed the footage in slow motion was more likely to believe that the robber premeditated the kill.
Statistically speaking, out of 1,000 juries, 39 would give a unanimous guilty verdict when watching in regular speed, while 150 juries would give a guilty verdict when looking at the same clip in slow motion.
Testing the Hypothesis
The research involved several segments, as the scientists wanted to explore different scenarios to see if the results were consistent with the initial setting.
A second situation intended to test whether or not a slow motion clip would offer the audience more time to ponder and speculate on the action. Thus, the volunteers were presented with two versions of the same clip, one in slow motion and another with a frozen frame, both having the same length. The results showed that people who watched the clip in slow motion were still more prone than the others to consider the action as premeditated.
A third segment was a variation of the previous situation, with the difference that the volunteers who were watching in slow motion were reminded that they were viewing an altered video, not a real-time one. The results were the same.
In the end, the researchers wanted to see if the error was eliminated when watching both the slow motion and the standard clip, as it usually happens in trials. The results showed that watching both versions reduced the bias, but did not eliminate it.
The authors of the study conclude that showing a video in slow motion alters jury’s perception, making it more prone to give a guilty verdict.
The research focused only on the momentary perception and not on the whole act of deciding whether a person is guilty or not, as the situations in the court can be more complex and the juries can take the decision based on other elements too. However, the study shows that it is important to present a video in a standard speed in order to avoid any biases.
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