Psychology & Law


Fall Semester 2005

  Instructor: Professor Kipling Williams

Office: PSYC 2166
Phone: 494-0845
Class Meetings: Wednesdays, 1:30pm - 4:20pm in PSYC 2102
Office hours: Tuesdays, 9:30am - 11:30am
or by appointment

Download Syllabus


Subject Description:
We will examine various aspects of the legal process from an experimental psychological perspective. The primary focus is on the impact that these processes have on trial participants specifically, and society generally. Many sub-disciplines of experimental psychology are represented in this course, including memory, perception, psycholinguistics, social psychology, developmental psychology, and personality. This is not a class on criminology or the “criminal mind.” Thus, we will not examine “profiling” or criminal psychopathology. This is also not a course on the law or the impact of clinical psychology on the field of law. We will note instances in which empirical psychology has made an impact. We may, however, cover some aspects of the insanity plea because such pleas, and the basis upon which they are made, affect the perceptions of judges and juries, their decision-making, and verdicts.

Brewer, N., & Williams, K. D. (Eds.) (2005). Psychology and law: An empirical perspective. New York: Guilford Press.

This book covers the primary experimental work being done in psychology that is related to the law. The coverage in the book roughly represents the proportion of research being done on each topic; so, more chapters are devoted to eyewitness issues than trial tactics because there is more research on eyewitness issues.

There is an additional topic I want to cover, as well, and this is the research, theory, and implications of coercing false confessions. Thus, we will include research by Kassin and also by Lassiter that speaks to this important issue. If there is another topic that psychology has devoted research efforts to that involve the law, let me know and perhaps we can give it some attention in class.

Additional Readings:

Eliciting False Confessions:

Kassin, S. M. (1997). The psychology of confession evidence. American Psychologist, 52, 221-233.

Kassin, S. M. (1998). More on the psychology of false confessions. American Psychologist, 53, 320-321.

Lassiter, G. D. (2002).Illusory causation in the courtroom. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 11, 204-208.

Lassiter, G. D., Geers, A. L., Handley, I. M., Weiland, P. E., & Munhall, P. J. (2002). Videotaped confessions and interrogations: A simple change in camera perspective alters verdicts in simulated trials. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 867-874.

See also:

Grades for this class will be based upon two components. There are no exams.

Presentations/Leading Discussion: Each student will be responsible for two presentations stemming from the readings. Your presentations should be lecture quality, probably using PowerPoint (but this isn’t mandatory), and should be more than simply regurgitating the material from the chapter. You should synthesize the material, finding themes that the authors do not, and also you should be critical of the conclusions reached by the authors, if you think they are not warranted (but your criticisms should be based on methodological assessment and logic, not merely opinion). You should be prepared to answer questions and to facilitate discussion. You should also find two outside journal articles to present in depth, concentrating on methods. Each presentation will count for 25% of your final grade.

Trial Paper: Your paper will consist of two parts. You will visit an actual trial (in West Lafayette, Lafayette, Indianapolis, or anywhere else that is convenient for you) and observe the proceedings for at least 2 hours. Any aspect of a trial is fine, from jury selection to opening arguments to closing arguments. Although some segments of trials may seem uninteresting, I assure you that all aspects are interesting enough to help you generate research ideas.

In Part 1 of your paper, you will document the trial that you attended. This includes reporting when (date and time), where (which courtroom/city), who (judge, attorneys, defendants, prosecutors, witnesses, etc.), what (what is the trial about? civil or criminal?), and what portion of the trial you witnessed. The format for this is flexible; just use complete sentences. You may need to ask questions of someone to get answers to these questions. Wait for a recess if you need to talk with one of the attorneys, the bailiff, or the judge. Sometimes, there are trial observers who you can spot who can answer your questions (again, during recesses). Do not speak to potential or actual jurors. The length of this section should probably run two to three pages.

In Part 2 (the more substantive part of your paper and that which accounts for most of your grade), you will develop an original testable hypothesis that stems from your observations, and then couch it within the psychological literature. Essentially, Part 2 is roughly APA-style, with an intro, method, anticipated results, and a discussion. Intro: How did you observation lead to your hypothesis? What would the existing research and theory (from Psych & Law, or the more basic areas of psychology) have to say about your topic and hypothesis? Method: What would be the design of your experiment? The minimum requirement for this course is a 2 X 2 design, with at least one manipulated variable. How would you go about testing it (i.e., procedure)? Results: Include a graph of predicted results and indicate what statistical analysis you would use. Discussion: if you did this research, what would its theoretical and applied implications be? Part 2 of your paper should be no more than 20 double-spaced pages (not including references). It will account for 50% of your final grade, and is due at the beginning of class on Wednesday December 7th.

2005 Class Calendar:
The following calendar sets approximate dates for topics throughout the semester.

Date Discussion Topic/Presenter Readings
24 Aug Overview of course /Kip Ch 1: Psychology and law research: An overview; Neil Brewer, Kipling D. Williams, & Carolyn Semmler
31 Aug Investigative interviewing / Cathy Ch 2: Investigative interviewing
Martine B. Powell, Ronald P. Fisher, & Rebecca Wright
7 Sept Detection of deception / Sarah T. Ch 3: Detecting deception (& readings)
Pär Anders Granhag & Aldert Vrij; Eliciting and determining false confessions; Kassin, Lassiter.
14 Sept Eyewitness recall and testimony for adults and children / Sarah M. Ch 4: Eyewitness recall and testimony; Ainat Pansky, Asher Koriat, & Morris Goldsmith
Ch 5: Children’s recall and testimony; Jason J. Dickinson, Debra A. Poole, & Rachel L. Laimon
21 Sept Eyewitness identification / Adrienne Ch 6: Eyewitness identification; Neil Brewer, Nathan Weber, & Carolyn Semmler
28 Sept False memories / Russell Ch 7: False memories; Matthew P. Gerrie, Maryanne Garry, & Elizabeth F. Loftus
5 Oct   SESP – No meeting
12 Oct   Amsterdam – No meeting
19 Oct Pre-trial publicity / Sarah T. Ch 8: Pre-trial publicity & its influence on juror decision making; Christina A. Studebaker & Steven D. Penrod
26 Oct Trial tactics / Adrienne Ch 9: Trial strategy & tactics; Kipling D. Williams & Andrew Jones
2 Nov Methods / Stephanie Ch 10: Simulation, realism, and the study of the jury; Norbert L. Kerr & Robert M. Bray
9 Nov Juror and Jury Decision-Making / Russell Ch 11: The psychology of jury and juror decision making; Lora M. Levett, Erin Danielsen, Margaret Bull Kovera, & Brian L. Cutler
16 Nov Judges Instructions / Cathy Ch 12: The comprehension of judicial instructions; James R. P. Ogloff & V. Gordon Rose
23 Nov   Thanksgiving – No meeting
30 Nov Sentencing / Sarah M. Ch 13: Dealing with the guilty offender; Jane Goodman-Delahunty, Lynne ForsterLee, & Robert ForsterLee
7 Dec Applying what we do to the legal system / Stephanie Ch 14: Helping Experimental Psychology affect Legal Policy; Gary L. Wells