Uncertain evidence statements and guilt perception in iterative reproductions of crime stories

AbstractTransmission of information by means of language is a potentially lossy process. Especially adjunct information, such as the graded degree of evidence, is a piece of information that seems prima facie likely to be distorted by reproduction noise. To investigate this issue, we present the results of a two-step iterated narration study: first, we collected a corpus of 250 crime story reproductions that were produced in parallel reproduction chains of 5 generations in depth, for 5 different seed stories; a second separate large-scale experiment then targeted readers' interpretation of these reproductions. Crucially, strength of evidence for the guilt of each story's suspect(s) was manipulated in the initial seed stories. Across generations, readers' guilt perceptions decreased when the evidence was originally strong, but remained stable when evidence was originally weak. Analysis of linguistic measures revealed that dissimilarity between a seed story and its reproduction, story length, and amount of hedging language affected the readers' own guilt perception and the readers' attribution of guilt perception to the author differently. The results provide evidence that evidential information indeed influences guilt perception in complex ways.

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