Center on Sentencing and Corrections

Public Support for Solitary Confinement: A Randomized Experiment of Belief Updating and Confirmation Bias

Public Support for Solitary Confinement: A Randomized Experiment of Belief Updating and Confirmation Bias

LaBranche, Kayla J., and Ryan M. Labrecque. “Public Support for Solitary Confinement: A Randomized Experiment of Belief Updating and Confirmation Bias.” Victims & Offenders (2020), 1-16.

This randomized control experiment adds to research about public support for the use of segregation. Using an online survey, researchers aimed to identify whether providing information about segregation causes people to update their belief and whether prior views about punishment moderate the influence of the message content on in changes in the level of support for segregation. The 486 participants completed questions about their level of punitive orientation and support for segregation and were randomly assigned one of two videos about segregation—one that suggested segregation was necessary within prisons, and the other stating segregation is harmful to incarcerated people.

Researchers found that the two groups of participants had nearly identical levels of support for segregation before the assessment. Still, when assessed after viewing the video, their support for segregation changed significantly in the direction of the video’s messaging. Those who received messaging that segregation is necessary significantly increased their level of support for segregation. Similarly, those who received information about the harms of segregation significantly decreased their level of support for segregation.

Participants classified as highly punitive (on the Vengeance Scale) had more support for segregation during the pretest than those classified as less punitive. When exposed to content that mirrored their previous views, participants aligned their level of support with the information provided to them. When exposed to content that differed from their former opinions, people also updated their beliefs to align with the content. In other words, the changes in the participants’ views about segregation were due to the content they were exposed to—regardless of their prior beliefs about punishment. 

These findings suggest that attitudes about segregation are malleable, further emphasizes the importance of education in shaping public opinion on this topic and underscores the need for more research on the effects of segregation.

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Keywords: public support, administrative segregation, restrictive housing, education.