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The Cognitive and Social Psychological Bases of Bias in Forensic Mental Health Judgments

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This chapter integrates from cognitive neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and social psychology the basic science of bias in human judgment as relevant to judgments and decisions by forensic mental health professionals. Forensic mental health professionals help courts make decisions in cases

This chapter integrates from cognitive neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and social psychology the basic science of bias in human judgment as relevant to judgments and decisions by forensic mental health professionals. Forensic mental health professionals help courts make decisions in cases when some question of psychology pertains to the legal issue, such as in insanity cases, child custody hearings, and psychological injuries in civil suits. The legal system itself and many people involved, such as jurors, assume mental health experts are “objective” and untainted by bias. However, basic psychological science from several branches of the discipline suggest the law’s assumption about experts’ protection from bias is wrong. Indeed, several empirical studies now show clear evidence of (unintentional) bias in forensic mental health experts’ judgments and decisions. In this chapter, we explain the science of how and why human judgments are susceptible to various kinds of bias. We describe dual-process theories from cognitive neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and social psychology that can help explain these biases. We review the empirical evidence to date specifically about cognitive and social psychological biases in forensic mental health judgments, weaving in related literature about biases in other types of expert judgment, with hypotheses about how forensic experts are likely affected by these biases. We close with a discussion of directions for future research and practice.

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2017-04-30

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The Cognitive Underpinnings of Bias in Forensic Mental Health Evaluations.

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We integrate multiple domains of psychological science to identify, better understand, and manage the effects of subtle but powerful biases in forensic mental health assessment. This topic is ripe for discussion, as research evidence that challenges our objectivity and credibility

We integrate multiple domains of psychological science to identify, better understand, and manage the effects of subtle but powerful biases in forensic mental health assessment. This topic is ripe for discussion, as research evidence that challenges our objectivity and credibility garners increased attention both within and outside of psychology. We begin by defining bias and provide rich examples from the judgment and decision making literature as they might apply to forensic assessment tasks. The cognitive biases we review can help us explain common problems in interpretation and judgment that confront forensic examiners. This leads us to ask (and attempt to answer) how we might use what we know about bias in forensic clinicians’ judgment to reduce its negative effects.

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2014-05

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Assessment Practices and Expert Judgment Methods in Forensic Psychology and Psychiatry: An International Snapshot

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We conducted an international survey in which forensic examiners who were members of professional associations described their two most recent forensic evaluations (N=434 experts, 868 cases), focusing on the use of structured assessment tools to aid expert judgment. This study

We conducted an international survey in which forensic examiners who were members of professional associations described their two most recent forensic evaluations (N=434 experts, 868 cases), focusing on the use of structured assessment tools to aid expert judgment. This study describes:

1. The relative frequency of various forensic referrals.
2. What tools are used globally.
3. Frequency and type of structured tools used.
4. Practitioners’ rationales for using/not using tools.

We provide general descriptive information for various referrals. We found most evaluations used tools (74.2%) and used several (on average 4). We noted the extreme variety in tools used (286 different tools). We discuss the implications of these findings and provide suggestions for improving the reliability and validity of forensic expert judgment methods. We conclude with a call for an assessment approach that seeks structured decision methods to advance greater efficiency in the use and integration of case-relevant information.

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2014-09-25

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Forensic Psychologists’ Perceptions of Bias and Potential Correction Strategies in Forensic Mental Health Evaluations.

Description

A qualitative study with 20 board-certified forensic psychologists was followed up by a mail survey of 351 forensic psychologists in this mixed-methods investigation of examiner bias awareness and strategies used to debias forensic judgments. Rich qualitative data emerged about awareness

A qualitative study with 20 board-certified forensic psychologists was followed up by a mail survey of 351 forensic psychologists in this mixed-methods investigation of examiner bias awareness and strategies used to debias forensic judgments. Rich qualitative data emerged about awareness of bias, specific biasing situations that recur in forensic evaluations, and potential debiasing strategies. The continuum of bias awareness in forensic evaluators mapped cogently onto the “stages of change” model. Evaluators perceived themselves as less vulnerable to bias than their colleagues, consistent with the phenomenon called the “bias blind spot.” Recurring situations that posed challenges for forensic clinicians included disliking or feeling sympathy for the defendant, disgust or anger toward the offense, limited cultural competency, preexisting values, colleagues’ influences, and protecting referral streams. Twenty-five debiasing strategies emerged in the qualitative study, all but one of which rated as highly useful in the quantitative survey. Some of those strategies are consistent with empirical evidence about their effectiveness, but others have been shown to be ineffective. We identified which strategies do not help, focused on promising strategies with empirical support, discussed additional promising strategies not mentioned by participants, and described new strategies generated by these participants that have not yet been subjected to empirical examination. Finally, debiasing strategies were considered with respect to future directions for research and forensic practice.

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2016-02

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Are Forensic Experts Already Biased Before Adversarial Legal Parties Hire Them?

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This survey of 206 forensic psychologists tested the “filtering” effects of preexisting expert attitudes in adversarial proceedings. Results confirmed the hypothesis that evaluator attitudes toward capital punishment influence willingness to accept capital case referrals from particular adversarial parties. Stronger death

This survey of 206 forensic psychologists tested the “filtering” effects of preexisting expert attitudes in adversarial proceedings. Results confirmed the hypothesis that evaluator attitudes toward capital punishment influence willingness to accept capital case referrals from particular adversarial parties. Stronger death penalty opposition was associated with higher willingness to conduct evaluations for the defense and higher likelihood of rejecting referrals from all sources Conversely, stronger support was associated with higher willingness to be involved in capital cases generally, regardless of referral source. The findings raise the specter of skewed evaluator involvement in capital evaluations, where evaluators willing to do capital casework may have stronger capital punishment support than evaluators who opt out, and evaluators with strong opposition may work selectively for the defense. The results may provide a partial explanation for the “allegiance effect” in adversarial legal settings such that preexisting attitudes may contribute to partisan participation through a self-selection process.

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2016-04-28

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Registered Replication Report: Rand, Greene, & Nowak

Description

In an anonymous 4-person economic game, participants contributed more money to a common project (i.e., cooperated) when required to decide quickly than when forced to delay their decision (Rand, Greene & Nowak, 2012), a pattern consistent with the social heuristics

In an anonymous 4-person economic game, participants contributed more money to a common project (i.e., cooperated) when required to decide quickly than when forced to delay their decision (Rand, Greene & Nowak, 2012), a pattern consistent with the social heuristics hypothesis proposed by Rand and colleagues. The results of studies using time pressure have been mixed, with some replication attempts observing similar patterns (e.g., Rand et al., 2014) and others observing null effects (e.g., Tinghög et al., 2013; Verkoeijen & Bouwmeester, 2014). This Registered Replication Report (RRR) assessed the size and variability of the effect of time pressure on cooperative decisions by combining 21 separate, preregistered replications of the critical conditions from Study 7 of the original article (Rand et al., 2012). The primary planned analysis used data from all participants who were randomly assigned to conditions and who met the protocol inclusion criteria (an intent-to-treat approach that included the 65.9% of participants in the time- pressure condition and 7.5% in the forced-delay condition who did not adhere to the time constraints), and we observed a difference in contributions of −0.37 percentage points compared with an 8.6 percentage point difference calculated from the original data. Analyzing the data as the original article did, including data only for participants who complied with the time constraints, the RRR observed a 10.37 percentage point difference in contributions compared with a 15.31 percentage point difference in the original study. In combination, the results of the intent-to-treat analysis and the compliant-only analysis are consistent with the presence of selection biases and the absence of a causal effect of time pressure on cooperation.

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2017-03-01