Understanding how grammatical aspect influences legal judgment
PLoS ONE , Volume 10 - Issue 10
Recent evidence suggests that grammatical aspect can bias how individuals perceive criminal intentionality during discourse comprehension. Given that criminal intentionality is a common criterion for legal definitions (e.g., first-degree murder), the present study explored whether grammatical aspect may also impact legal judgments. In a series of four experiments participants were provided with a legal definition and a description of a crime in which the grammatical aspect of provocation and murder events were manipulated. Participants were asked to make a decision (first- vs. second-degree murder) and then indicate factors that impacted their decision. Findings suggest that legal judgments can be affected by grammatical aspect but the most robust effects were limited to temporal dynamics (i.e., imperfective aspect results in more murder actions than perfective aspect), which may in turn influence other representational systems (i.e., number of murder actions positively predicts perceived intentionality). In addition, findings demonstrate that the influence of grammatical aspect on situation model construction and evaluation is dependent upon the larger linguistic and semantic context. Together, the results suggest grammatical aspect has indirect influences on legal judgments to the extent that variability in aspect changes the features of the situation model that align with criteria for making legal judgments.