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Chapter 16. Social Psychology and the Law. Social Psychology and the Law. Studying the legal system helps psychologists see how behavior occurs in complex, personally relevant, and emotion-laden contests. Eyewitness Testimony. Eyewitness identifications are frequently inaccurate.

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chapter 16

Chapter 16

Social Psychology and the Law

social psychology and the law
Social Psychology and the Law
  • Studying the legal system helps psychologists see how behavior occurs in complex, personally relevant, and emotion-laden contests.
eyewitness testimony
Eyewitness Testimony
  • Eyewitness identifications are frequently inaccurate.
eyewitness testimony1
Eyewitness Testimony
  • The three basic processes of acquisition, storage, and retrieval influence eyewitness memory, just as they influence all memory.
eyewitness testimony2
Eyewitness Testimony
  • Two groups of factors influence eyewitness identification
  • Estimator variables
    • concern the eyewitness and the situation
  • System variables
    • are under the direct control of the criminal justice or legal system.
eyewitness testimony3
Eyewitness Testimony
  • Viewing Opportunity
    • The longer witnesses look and the more attention they are able to pay, the more accurate their identifications
    • However, witnesses are just as likely to think they can make an identification if they have witnessed an event under poor viewing conditions.
eyewitness testimony4
Eyewitness Testimony
  • Stress and Arousal
    • Stress increases memory for the event itself but decreases memory for what preceded and followed the incident
eyewitness testimony5
Eyewitness Testimony
  • Weapon Focus Effect
    • People tend to keep their eye on weapons because of their danger and novelty
    • This distracts their attention from the robbers
eyewitness testimony6
Eyewitness Testimony
  • Own-Race Bias
    • People are more accurate in identifying members of their own race
    • Own-race bias decreases with experience with other groups
      • Thus blacks are more accurate in identifying whites than vice versa.
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Eyewitness Testimony
  • Retention Interval
    • Accuracy drops with time rapidly at first, then levels off.
eyewitness testimony8
Eyewitness Testimony
  • Suggestive Questioning
    • The way witnesses are questioned influences their memories of the event.
    • Some questions are suggestive but not deliberately misleading
      • E.g. Loftus & Palmer found that people said a car had been going faster in an accident if they asked about its speed when it “smashed” into the other car as opposed to “hit” it
    • Other questions are deliberately misleading, asking about nonexistent details.
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Eyewitness Testimony
  • Three hypotheses for how post-event information affects memory
    • over-writing
    • forgetting
    • source monitoring
      • People retain memories of both the event and any post-event information but cannot identify the source of the memories
  • Evidence supports the latter.
eyewitness testimony10
Eyewitness Testimony
  • Lineup Biases
    • The way lineups are conducted can have a tremendous effect on the accuracy of eyewitness identification.
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Eyewitness Testimony
  • Show-ups
    • asks witnesses to indicate whether or not a single witness is the perpetrator
  • Simultaneous lineups
    • show the witness several potential suspects at the same time.
  • Sequential lineups
    • show potential suspects one at a time
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Eyewitness Testimony
  • Sequential lineups allow the most careful attention to each person and the most careful decision-making and are most accurate.
eyewitness testimony13
Eyewitness Testimony
  • Another aspect of lineups is choosing foils (people other than the suspect in the lineup).
    • Identifications are most accurate when all of the foils look like the witness’s initial description of the perpetrator.
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Eyewitness Testimony
  • Instructions given to eyewitnesses are also important.
    • Identifications are most accurate when the witness is told that the suspect “may or may not” be in the lineup.
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Eyewitness Testimony
  • This research has affected U.S. Department of Justice guidelines for police to use when questioning eyewitnesses.
criminal defendants
Criminal Defendants
  • Voluntary False Confessions.
    • Coerced complaint false confessions
      • when people are pressured to admit guilt but privately believe their own innocence.
    • Coerced internalized false confessions
      • when people come to believe they committed crimes they did not commit.
      • This may occur when the behavior seems plausible and when other people claim they are guilty.
criminal defendants1
Criminal Defendants
  • Lie Detection
    • Observers do not detect lies at much better than chance rates
      • Despite nonverbal leakage
      • Law enforcement professionals are generally not more accurate
      • There is no correlation between how well people believe they detect lies and how well they actually do
criminal defendants2
Criminal Defendants
  • Polygraph (“lie detector”) tests
    • ask suspects to answer questions while hooked to a machine that records physiological responses.
    • The control question test asks about the critical, as well as about unrelated, wrongdoings.
  • The accuracy of polygraph tests is debated
    • advocates claim 90% accuracy, while published research estimates 57-76% accuracy, not much better than chance (50%).
criminal defendants3
Criminal Defendants
  • How do characteristics of defendants influence the decisions made by juries?
    • Physically attractive defendants are less likely to be found guilty.
    • Black defendants receive disproportionately harsher sentences than whites.
      • This result is found in archival studies while the results of lab studies are inconsistent.
criminal defendants4
Criminal Defendants
  • Aversive racism theory
    • People should suppress racist thoughts when race is salient
    • Race may have an effect when people are unaware that it may have one.
    • Race may have an effect when people’s behavior can be justified by factors other than race.
    • According to this theory, jurors would be more likely to discriminate in trials where the race of the defendant is not made salient.
criminal defendants5
Criminal Defendants
  • Sommers and Ellsworth (2000, 2001)
    • Participants read about a white or black defendant who slapped his girlfriend in public.
    • Half read that the defendant said, “You know better than to talk that way about a man in front of his friends.” The other half read the same sentence with the words “white man” or “black man.”
    • In the first condition (race not salient), white participants made harsher judgments against the black than against the white; there was no difference in the race-salient condition.
  • Jury Selection
    • The voir dire process allows judges and lawyers to question prospective jurors
      • Goal is to assess the presence of biases that would interfere with their ability to render a fair judgment.
    • Peremptory challenges allow attorneys to eliminate jurors for a number of reasons
      • E.g., occupation or personality traits (but not race or gender)
  • Demographic factors are not always predictive of verdicts
    • this is most likely when group membership is relevant to the case
  • Jurors who are high in authoritarianism are more likely to convict.
  • “Death qualified” juries are more likely to convict.
  • According to Hastie and Pennington’s story model of jury decision making, jurors use the evidence presented in trials to create stories about the events in question.
  • Multiple competing stories may be created
  • The story that best fits the evidence determines the verdict chosen.
  • Comprehension of Judicial Instructions
    • Juries may have problems understanding and applying legal instructions.
      • On-going research is looking for solutions, for example, rewriting instructions in more “user-friendly” language and allowing jurors to take notes.
  • Jury Deliberations
    • Twelve-person juries are more representative and spend more time deliberating than six-person juries.
    • Juries using a unanimous decision rule discuss the evidence longer and more thoroughly than juries using a majority decision rule.
expert testimony
Expert Testimony
  • Psychologists are increasingly asked to give expert testimony in court cases.
    • Judges must consider the scientific reliability of the evidence, but may lack the necessary background to rule effectively.
expert testimony1
Expert Testimony
  • Expert testimony that draws links between the research and the particular case has larger influence on jurors than research that just presents the research findings.