Individual differences in interpretations of justified and unjustified violence

Melissa Marcotte, University of Rhode Island


This study examines the impact and interaction of individual differences in personality, empathic style, ethical position, and trait violence sensitivity on perceptions of violence in a "justified" or "unjustified" video clip. Undergraduate students (n=229) enrolled in an introductory psychology course participated in an online survey where they were randomly assigned to 1 of 6 groups (Video Order x Justification). As found in previous studies, in general, participants rated the justified clip as less violent, even though both videos depicted the same scene. When rating the unjustified violence, individual differences did not seem to impact severity ratings but when participants were told the violence was justified, those who scored higher in Idealistic ethical position and higher in Violence Sensitivity actually rated it as more violent, which may be a reactive decision. Differences in violence severity ratings for the unjustified video condition were found between Violence Sensitive and Violence Tolerant trait groups only when the Violence Tolerant participants saw the video before taking the individual differences survey. This implies that violence sensitivity may have a set point for an individual, but that the sensitivity is malleable if primed to think about ethics and empathy first. Further implications on the impact of internal individual differences and external cues on a person's perception of violence are discussed, particularly in regards to criminal justice and violence sensitivity training.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Psychology|Cognitive psychology

Recommended Citation

Melissa Marcotte, "Individual differences in interpretations of justified and unjustified violence" (2015). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI1600264.