Master's Theses



Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Many studies have examined the public’s perception of crime in the United State of America. As a whole, the public tends to favor harsh punishments and longer sentences for most crimes. In addition, the public tends to feel even more negatively toward sex offenders, often supporting punitive measures and restrictions when sex offenders are released, such as lifetime registration on the national sex offender registry. Although perceptions of crime, and sex offenses in general, appear to be negative among the general public, more recent research indicates that these perceptions can be influenced if information about the crime and offender is received. Thus, the main focus of this study was to examine how perceptions of a sex offender may vary based on demographic and background information provided about the offender, such as the offender’s biological sex, race, and childhood upbringing. We also sought to assess if this background and demographic information would influence participants’ decisions about what should happen to an offender (e.g., be part of the sex offender registry). A total of 366 participants completed a survey through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk). The survey included a vignette that detailed a hypothetical sexual assault crime with an offender as well as the Attitudes toward Sex Offenders (ATS-21) scale which was used to measure participants’ perceptions of the offender. There were 12 possible vignettes; each vignette contained varying combinations of the factors mentioned above (i.e., biological sex, race, and childhood upbringing), which provided the participant with information about the sex offender to determine how this information would influence their perceptions. In addition, perceptions about the placement of the offender on the sex offender registry were also measured. We hypothesized that there would be a significant effect of background and demographic information on the participant’s overall perception of the sex offender. Based on prior literature, we anticipated that perceptions would be more negative when participants received information that the offender was male, the offender identified with a minoritized racial group, and when the offender experienced a rough upbringing. Furthermore, we hypothesized that there would not be a significant effect of background and demographic information on the participant’s thoughts towards requiring the sex offender to be placed on the sex offender registry. A series of between-subjects ANOVA were conducted. Findings suggest that only one of our hypotheses was supported. There was no significant difference between the vignette conditions when assessing perceptions toward the sex offender, meaning that participants had more negative views of the offender regardless of the background information provided (not supporting hypothesis one). This finding can be seen as support for rational choice theory as influencing the public’s perceptions of sex offenders. Additionally, participants overwhelmingly supported the requirement of sex offenders to be placed on the national sex offender registry regardless of the background information provided (supporting hypothesis two). This finding supported previous research regarding the sex offender registry. Limitations as well as future research and the implications of the current findings are discussed.


Dr. Whitney Whitaker

Date of Award

Spring 2023

Document Type



© The Author(s)


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Psychology Commons