Dissertation Defense - Rap Lyrics as Evidence: An Examination of Rap Music, Perceptions of Threat, and Juror Decision Making

Fri, 05/26/2017


 Date:  May 26, 2017

 Time: 10:00am – 12:00pm

 Location:  Social Ecology II, Room 2372

 Featuring:  Adam Dunbar, Candidate for Ph.D. in Criminology, Law & Society



Title:  Rap Lyrics as Evidence: An Examination of Rap Music, Perceptions of Threat, and Juror Decision Making

Committee:  Charis Kubrin (chair), Nicholas Scurich (chair), William Thompson


In courtrooms across the U.S., defendant-authored rap lyrics are being introduced as incriminating evidence. Prosecutors describe these lyrics as an admission of guilt. Others, however, fear rap lyrics are being used as evidence because of stereotypes about the genre and the artists associated with it, which may affect trial outcomes. Only a handful of studies have empirically examined concerns about this practice, and these studies are methodologically limited and becoming increasingly outdated. My dissertation involves a set of studies that address these limitations and build upon previous research.

In Study 1, which consists of three experiments, I examined the impact of genre-specific stereotypes on the evaluation of violent song lyrics by manipulating the musical genre ascribed to the lyrics while holding constant the actual lyrics. Experiment 1, a direct replication of previous research, found that participants deemed identical lyrics more literal, offensive, and in greater need of regulation when they were characterized as rap compared to country. I found in Experiment 2 that this genre effect was not unique to one set of lyrics and in Experiment 3 that it was not influenced by the race of the songwriter. Findings from Study 2, which used a similar design as Study 1, revealed that the songwriter of the lyrics was viewed more negatively across a number of dimensions when the lyrics were categorized as rap rather than country, punk, or heavy metal.

Finally, in Study 3, I examined the adjudicative consequences of using rap lyrics as evidence in a criminal trial. In particular, participants evaluated rap lyrics in two contexts, one of which was a trial, and then provided a verdict for the trial. Results revealed that participants who believe a defendant is guilty were more likely to treat rap lyrics as an admission of guilt compared to when the lyrics were not presented in the trial context, however evaluations of the lyrics did not predict verdict. Ultimately, these findings provide insight into the potential consequences of introducing rap lyrics as evidence at trial.