Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts




Krystia Reed


The most common route through the US criminal justice system is through plea-bargaining, with over 95% of criminal cases ending in a guilty plea. Previous studies have found different factors (e.g., plea discounts; Wilford et al., 2021) that can increase the likelihood of a false guilty plea. This study aimed to further investigate the effect of guilt status on plea decisions, but also to see how guilt may work alongside acute stress and pre-existing knowledge of the plea process to drive plea-bargaining decisions. Participants (N = 188) were assigned to complete either a stressful or a non-stressful version of the Trier Social Stress Task (Kirschbaum et al., 1993), then were asked to complete a virtual plea-bargaining simulation that assigned participants to assume the role of either a guilty or an innocent defendant. Each participant answered questions relating to their plea decision and how voluntary they found their decision to be. Overall, plea decisions were driven by guilt status and plea knowledge, with guilty participants, and innocent participants with less knowledge being more likely to accept guilty pleas, but not acute stress. Likewise, innocent participants viewed their decision as being less voluntary than guilty participants. This study can add to the existing literature on plea-bargaining by providing evidence for legal concerns surrounding the validity of guilty pleas.




Recieved from ProQuest

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File Format


Rights Holder

Grace Hanzelin