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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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Refusing and Withdrawing From Forensic Evaluations

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Aside from an article by Gutheil, Bursztajn, Hilliard, and Brodsky (2004), scant literature exists regarding why forensic mental health professionals refuse or withdraw from cases. The current study collected descriptive information about the reasons mental health experts decline or withdraw

Aside from an article by Gutheil, Bursztajn, Hilliard, and Brodsky (2004), scant literature exists regarding why forensic mental health professionals refuse or withdraw from cases. The current study collected descriptive information about the reasons mental health experts decline or withdraw from forensic assessments, both early and late in the legal process. In response to an online survey, 29 practicing forensic psychologists and psychiatrists presented examples of case withdrawal from their professional experiences. Their major reasons included ethical issues or conflicts, payment difficulties, and interpersonal or procedural problems with retaining counsel or evaluees. The results indicate that there are compelling personal and professional reasons that prompt forensic mental health experts to withdraw from or turn down cases.

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2013