Given the large number of criminal trials that occur annually, it is important to understand jurors’ verdict choices and punishment preferences. Recently, legislators have begun moving to criminalize school bullying, and therefore more such cases will likely be tried in courtrooms in the future. In the current study, undergraduates (N = 170; 75% female) evaluated a criminal trial involving bullying. We manipulated the victim’s age (14 or 18 years old) and the harm level (emotional distress that led to academic problems or a suicide attempt). We hypothesized that greater harm would produce more pro-victim judgments for the younger but not the older victim, and that this effect would be mediated by jurors’ inferences about each individual’s degree of responsibility. As predicted, when the victim was younger, a higher versus lower level of harm led to a greater proportion of guilty verdicts, higher probability of guilt estimates, and harsher sentence recommendations. In contrast, when the victim was older, an increase in harm significantly decreased probability of guilt estimates and did not affect verdicts or sentences. Jurors seem to interpret harm in a complex way, taking into account the victim’s apparent capacity to deal with his or her mistreatment.
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