Empathy and biased assimilation of testimonies in cases of alleged rape

Richard L. Wiener, Audrey T.Feldman Wiener, Thomas Grisso

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


This article examines the relationship between rape empathy and evaluations of attacker culpability. Empathy was defined as a score on the Rape Empathy Scale (RES) and whether or not subjects had previous experience with a rape victim. Summaries of the testimonies from a rape trial were presented to subjects recruited through media advertisement in a midwestern community. Ratings of responsibility were made prior to and following each summary. Although RES score was not related to participants' attributions, personal knowledge of rape victims was predictive. All participants increased their attributions of responsibility after reviewing the complainant's testimony, the first direct examination in the case for the prosecution. The ratings of participants who were acquainted with a victim remained elevated across all judgments while the subjects unacquainted with a victim lowered their attributions. At the conclusion of the transcripts the victim-acquainted subjects were more likely to find the defendant guilty of forcible rape. These findings provide evidence for two types of empathic processes, one of which appears to be involved in biased assimilation of trial evidence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)343-355
Number of pages13
JournalLaw and human behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1989
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Law


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