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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.

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.

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

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

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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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

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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How the expression of DNA evidence affects jurors' interpretation of probabilistic fingerprint evidence

Description

Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) evidence has been shown to have a strong effect on juror decision-making when presented in court. While DNA evidence has been shown to be extremely reliable, fingerprint

Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) evidence has been shown to have a strong effect on juror decision-making when presented in court. While DNA evidence has been shown to be extremely reliable, fingerprint evidence, and the way it is presented in court, has come under much scrutiny. Forensic fingerprint experts have been working on a uniformed way to present fingerprint evidence in court. The most promising has been the Probabilistic Based Fingerprint Evidence (PBFE) created by Forensic Science Services (FSS) (G. Langenburg, personal communication, April 16, 2011). The current study examined how the presence and strength of DNA evidence influenced jurors' interpretation of probabilistic fingerprint evidence. Mock jurors read a summary of a murder case that included fingerprint evidence and testimony from a fingerprint expert and, in some conditions, DNA evidence and testimony from a DNA expert. Results showed that when DNA evidence was found at the crime scene and matched the defendant other evidence and the overall case was rated as stronger than when no DNA was present. Fingerprint evidence did not cause a stronger rating of other evidence and the overall case. Fingerprint evidence was underrated in some cases, and jurors generally weighed all the different strengths of fingerprint testimony to the same degree.

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  • 2012