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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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Date Created
2017-04-30

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Credibility in the Courtroom: How Likeable Should an Expert Witness Be?

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This study sought to investigate the relation between expert witness likeability and juror judgments of credibility and sentencing. Two actors playing expert witnesses were trained to present themselves as high and low in likeability in a standard testimony scenario involving

This study sought to investigate the relation between expert witness likeability and juror judgments of credibility and sentencing. Two actors playing expert witnesses were trained to present themselves as high and low in likeability in a standard testimony scenario involving capital trial sentencing. The effects of extraversion and gender in mock jurors in attending to expert testimony were also examined. The dependent variables were the perceptions of the witnesses’ credibility and agreement with testimony and the participants were 210 psychology undergraduates. Likeability of expert witnesses was found to be significantly related to judgments of trustworthiness of the experts, but not related to confidence or knowledge of the experts or to the mock juror sentencing decisions. Women participants rated high likeable experts as more credible than low likeable experts; men did not. For men jurors, agreement with testimony increased as extraversion increased. However, for women jurors, agreement with testimony decreased as extraversion increased. The results suggest that likeability can be an important element of source credibility, and that attorneys and trial consultants now have an empirical foundation for addressing likeability as part of witness preparation.

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Created

Date Created
2009

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Online Searches for Jury Selection

Description

The Sixth Amendment guarantees defendants the right to trial by an impartial jury. Attorneys are expected to obtain information about potential juror biases and then deselect biased jurors. Social networking sites may offer useful information about potential jurors. Although some

The Sixth Amendment guarantees defendants the right to trial by an impartial jury. Attorneys are expected to obtain information about potential juror biases and then deselect biased jurors. Social networking sites may offer useful information about potential jurors. Although some attorneys and trial consultants have begun searching online sources for information about jurors, the privacy rights of potential jurors’ online content has yet to be defined by case law. Two studies explored the issue of possible intrusion into juror privacy. First, an active jury venire was searched for online content. Information was found for 36% of the jurors; however, 94% of the information was found through simple Google searches. Only 6% of the information we found was unique to other sites. We concluded that searching for potential jurors online is feasible, but that systematically searching sites other than Google is generally not an effective search strategy. In our second study we surveyed attorneys, trial consultants, law students, and undergraduate students about ethical and privacy issues in the use of public domain information for jury selection. Participants evidenced concern about the rights of jurors, the rights of the defendant and accuser, and the role of tradition in court processes.

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Date Created
2013

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The Propriety of Preemptory Challenges for Perceived Personality Traits

Description

There is substantial controversy over the extent to which social science should be used in jury selection. Underlying the debate are two competing interests in the make-up of a jury: a privilege to strike prospective jurors on subjective grounds, which

There is substantial controversy over the extent to which social science should be used in jury selection. Underlying the debate are two competing interests in the make-up of a jury: a privilege to strike prospective jurors on subjective grounds, which supports scientific jury selection, and a collective interest of citizens to be free from exclusion from jury service, which does not. While the incommensurability of the interests precludes resolution of the controversy in the abstract, specific solutions are possible. Using the example of selection of jurors based upon their respective levels of extraversion, we describe how the competing interests frequently do not apply to concrete cases. In the subsequent analysis, we show that, rhetoric notwithstanding, a normative preference for adhering to tradition and institutional inertia are the primary instrumental considerations for determining whether peremptory challenges based upon personality traits like extraversion ought to be allowed. Consistent with this analysis, we conclude that the practice of striking jurors based upon estimates of such personality traits is appropriate.

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Created

Date Created
2013

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The Cognitive Underpinnings of Bias in Forensic Mental Health Evaluations.

Description

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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Date Created
2014-05

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

Description

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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Created

Date Created
2014-09-25

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

Description

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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Created

Date Created
2016-04-28