The effect of malleability beliefs and emotions on legal decision making

Dana Weimann-Saks*, Inbal Peleg-Koriat, Eran Halperin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


For decades, legal formalism has held that judicial sentencing decisions should be guided by facts, not subjective variables. However, scholars and legal practitioners have long been aware of the influence of psychological factors on legal decision making. In this article we report on two studies that examined a model suggesting that belief in malleability (a belief that people’s personalities change and develop) is correlated with the severity assessment of a defendant’s criminal behavior. We also examined whether this relationship is mediated by negative and positive emotions. Our analysis revealed that believing in malleability reduces the likelihood of viewing the defendant’s traits as fixed, which leads to more compassionate legal assessment. Additionally, our results indicate that the mechanism underlying the relationship between a belief in malleability and judicial assessment is emotional. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of our findings with an eye on the literature on law and psychology and implicit beliefs.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)21-38
Number of pages18
JournalJustice System Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2 Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 National Center for State Courts.


  • Decision making
  • Emotions
  • Entity theory
  • Incremental theory
  • Malleability


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