Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

John K. Cochran, Ph.D.


Marshall hypothesis, Capital punishment, Public opinion, Knowledge gain, Death penalty


Justice Thurgood Marshall proposed a three-pronged postulate in his dissent in1972 in the Furman v. Georgia (408 U.S. 238) Supreme Court case. The American public is generally uninformed when it comes to the death penalty, and given information a "great mass of citizens" would be against it, unless their underlying beliefs were rootedin retribution (Furman v. Georgia, p. 363). These statements subsequently came to be known as the Marshall Hypothesis, and were deemed testable by researchers.

This study examines the influence on death penalty opinion as a consequence of participating in a college class on the death penalty. Students in the class, who were either criminology majors or minors, were asked to take part in a questionnaire regarding their attitudes toward capital punishment at the beginning and at the end of the semester.Over the course of the class, students took part in a pre and post-test designed to measure their knowledge of the death penalty. This study correlated the amount of knowledge gained by each student with their respective death penalty attitudes.

Results indicated that many in the class had little knowledge of the practice, application, and corollary effects of capital punishment. Those students who made the greatest amount of knowledge gains also reported a reduction in support for capital punishment. The acceptance of death penalty truths was not found to be related to a reduction in death penalty support. Further analysis, however, showed that those students who accepted these death penalty “truths” were also able to disregard death penalty “myths.” The present study concludes that support for the death penalty is directly reduced through increased knowledge gain, and indirectly reduced through truth acceptance as a function of death penalty “myth” abandonment.