Introduction: The Researcher's Life 1

Chapter 11 Psychology and Law, Now and in the Next Century: The Promise of an Emerging Area of Psychology

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Chapter 11
Psychology and Law, Now and in the Next Century:
The Promise of an Emerging Area of Psychology

Matthew T. Huss
Creighton University

Aspiring psychology students are often drawn to psychology and law by exciting media portrayals of violent crimes, expert testimony in a publicized case such as the O. J. Simpson trial, or sensational movie depictions of criminal profilers "catching the bad guys." Although the study of criminal behavior and theories of crime may have provided a significant contribution and even historical impetus for the field (Grisso, 1991; Hess, 1996; Loh, 1981), the intersection of psychology and the law has grown into a broad and increasingly sophisticated subdiscipline of psychology (Melton, Huss, & Tomkins, 1998; Wiener, 1997). This chapter's examination of the full expanse of this emerging field is not meant to discourage the student initially drawn to the more sensational aspects of psychology and law. In fact, it is intended to encourage students to explore all that is exciting about this budding area. Though psychology and law is comparatively young, it is in a position to make a unique contribution to society and science both because of its interdisciplinary nature and its ability to answer applied question

This chapter first describes what is meant by terms like psychology and law and forensic psychology. Because of the relative youth of the field, I will briefly discuss earlier research efforts in two broad areas (i.e., general psychology and law and forensic psychology) and some of the hottest topics in these areas. Furthermore, a specific topic in forensic psychology that is of the most interest to me, risk assessment, will be examined in more depth both by examining the current state of the area and the future directions researchers are likely to pursue. I will then examine the future of the general field of psychology and law. Finally, I will offer some advice for students interested in pursuing a career in psychology and law.

What is Psychology and Law? 

Simply put, anything that falls within the intersection of psychology and the legal system can be considered within the scope of psychology and the law. The imprecision of this definition allows for a very broad and ever expanding field that is only limited by the imagination and the continually evolving legal system (Bartol & Bartol, 1994). Because research in psychology and law is shaped by the legal system, the basic and applied nature of psycholegal scholarship are equally important. Traditional psychological research often seeks to address basic principles of human behavior. Legal and forensic psychologists are forced to bridge the gap between the laboratory and the courtroom by the very nature of the applied topic they study. This statement is not meant to minimize the contribution of basic psychological research to psychology and law. There are numerous tenants of cognitive, developmental, social, and clinical psychology at work in psycholegal research. However, psychology and law offers a somewhat special and direct application of its principles to a real world laboratory, the legal system, that few other areas of psychology are able to do. 

The real world application of psychology and the law has been identified at least since Hugo Munsterberg (1908) made grand claims regarding the promise that psychology held for the legal system nearly a century ago in his pioneering book On the Witness Stand. Some of the early research was inspired by the real world events like the kidnaping of Charles Lindbergh's young child and subsequent trial of the alleged perpetrators (McGehee, 1937). Early psycholegal research also was used before the United States Supreme Court's finding that public school segregation was unconstitutional (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954). One of the more publicized cases involving the use of psychological expertise in the courtroom occurred during the Harrisburg Seven trial in the early 70's. In this politically charged case, Phillip Berrigan and seven other men were on trial for a number of antiwar activities. A group of social scientists joined the defense team to offer their expertise to select a jury favorable to the defendants. The team of experts sought to identify a number of demographic characteristics (e.g., religion, age, gender, education) that were be related to a bias for convicting the defendants (Schulman, Shaver, Colman Emrich, & Christie, 1973). 

From these early ventures into the courtroom, psychology and the law has experienced tremendous and rapid growth during the past 20 years (Ogloff, Tomkins, & Bersoff, 1996; Melton, 1992). The growth of the field is marked by the establishment of specialized journals (e.g., Behavioral Sciences and the LawCriminal Justice and BehaviorLaw and Human Behavior, and Psychology, Public Policy, and the Law), increasing use of psychological testimony and the examination of psycholegal research in court cases (e.g., Lockhart v. McCree, 1986), the establishment of professional organizations (e.g., American Association for Correctional Psychology; American Board of Forensic Psychologists; American Psychology-Law Society), and the creation of graduate training programs specifically in psychology and law (see generally, Bersoff, Goodman-Delahunty, Grisso, Hans, Poythress, & Roesch, 1997; Hess, 1996; Melton et al., 1998; Ogloff et al., 1996; Otto, Heilbrun, & Grisso, 1990, Tomkins & Ogloff, 1990). The expansion of psycholegal research and the field's increasing promise to society as a whole is remarkable (Melton, 1992). 

The subdiscipline of psychology concerned with the legal system has been referred to as psychology and law, forensic psychology, psycholegal studies, correctional psychology, etc., and its identity has been debated almost since it inception (Hess, 1996; Grisso, 1991). The diverse focus of the field has fueled much of the debate.

Traditionally, psychology and law is divided into a few discrete, but related areas (Bersoff et al., 1997). The more clinical aspects of psychology and law, forensic psychology, tend to cover areas such as psychological assessment, prediction and reduction of future dangerousness, and interventions designed to rehabilitate criminal offenders. More experimental topics in psychology and law are most often based in the social, personality, cognitive, or developmental, areas of psychology. Examples of these areas include jury decision making, eyewitness identification, the impact of expert witnesses, and the role of children in the courtroom. Another area of psychology and law that is achieving prominence examines the impact of court decisions, legislative action, and administrative conclusions on the beliefs and behavior of society. Many individuals believe these policy issues may hold the greatest promise for psychology and law to make a meaningful contribution to society (Melton, 1992). However, policy aspects of the field are often reflected in the forensic or general psychology and law research and will not be described separately.

The diverse nature of psychology and law is apparent in the articles published in Law and Human Behavior, the official journal of the American Psychology-Law Society/Division 41 of the American Psychological Association, in one calendar year (i.e., 2000). The journal included a range of topics: the nature of coerced confessions, polygraph procedures, alternative trial procedures, the impact of pretrial publicity, the influence of appointed and retained counsel on capital cases, and recidivism rates among sex offenders to name but a few. Though the journal focused on experimental or psycholegal topics in the past (Wiener, 1997), of a total of 37 topical articles or research notes in the past year, 12 (32%) were forensic in focus, 19 (51%) focused on the more experimental areas of psychology and law, and 6 (16%) were policy oriented. Of course, these categories are not mutually exclusive and this crude comparison is only meant to be descriptive of the field. Other psychology and law journals such as Behavioral Sciences and the LawCriminal Justice and Behavior, and Legal and Criminological PsychologyPsychology, Crime and LawPsychology, Public Policy, and the Law have their own orientations toward psychology and law. These journals all reflect the diverse and broadening nature of psychology and law. 

The breadth of psychology and law makes it impossible to identify and summarize all of the compelling research issues in the area. However, a cursory examination of several major topics in psychology and law provide a good starting point for students interested in the field as well as established professionals unfamiliar with the literature. This examination of general psychology and law research will focus primarily on jury selection and decision making, and eyewitness identification. Discussion of forensic research will deal with traditional clinical concepts of treatment and assessment within the legal context. It should become evident that psychology and law is distinctive in its direct application. Research can assist in the imprisonment of individuals, in putting them to death, in suggesting when some should be released, and in setting some free. The effects can be very real and very profound. 

Jury Selection and Juror Decision Making Methodologies Employed by Legal Psychologists

A predominant methodology in psychology and law research has been the use of mock jurors to represent the functioning of actual jury members as they behave during the trial process (i.e., jury simulations). Jury simulations usually consist of participants being exposed to the facts of a case either in the form of a brief scenario, a lengthy trial transcript, or a videotaped reenactment. These mock jurors are then asked to render a verdict and/or sentence as if they were actual jurors in the case. Jury simulations may be conducted with individual mock jurors or in groups ranging anywhere from 6-12. Individuals may discuss or deliberate as jurors normally do in criminal and civil cases or simply come to individual decisions.

Researchers in the field have long been critical of this methodology for its lack of generalizability to actual jurors (Vidmar, 1979; Weiten & Diamond, 1979). Jury simulations are criticized because of their use of college students as the majority of participants, brief trial summaries to represent hours of actual trial testimony, the lack of deliberation among jury members, and inappropriate dependent measures (e.g., confidence, degree of responsibility etc.) that are not options in real trials where jurors simply vote guilty or not guilty (Weiten & Diamond, 1979). Diamond (1997) revisited the methodological concerns she and Weiten raised almost 20 years ago and concluded that some have been addressed whereas others have largely been ignored. Diamond (1997) and others have called for researchers to continue to improve jury simulations to address the concerns raised by the courts when evaluating the applicability and usefulness of the research. 

The body of literature focusing on jury decision making has fallen into identifiable areas (Penrod & Cutler, 1987). Much of the initial research focused on individual characteristics including demographic, attitudinal, and personality factors. More recent research examined jury decision making from evidentiary and procedural perspectives. 

Predictors of Mock Juror Verdicts and Scientific Jury Selection

The focus on individual differences in juror decision making was primarily an outgrowth of psychological interest in scientific jury selection (Schulman, et al., 1973). Scientific jury selection held that individual differences among jurors would influence the final verdict. Individual differences included demographic differences (e.g., sex or age) or attitudinal and personality differences (e.g., pro-death penalty or authoritarianism). For example, psychologists and legal actors wanted to know whether a white, middle-aged man would be more prone to decide a particular case in one direction compared to a elderly, Hispanic woman. They were also interested whether a female attorney would be more persuasive in a particular case or an African-American judge would impact the outcome. It should become apparent how valuable such information could be to parties on either side of an issue. However, reviews of the juror literature found largely inconsistent results and concluded that most individual differences are not strong predictors of final verdict choices (Penrod & Cutler, 1987; Penrod & Fulero, 1990). More recent research may provide better contextual answers to the earlier conclusions (e.g., Narby, Cutler, & Moran, 1993) and suggest greater promise for the predictive power of these variables. 

Demographic variables such as sex, age, income, education, religion, and race have shown minimal predictive power in regard to ultimate verdict decisions (Goodman, Loftus, & Greene, 1990; Updike & Shaw, 1995). Race and sex have produced more robust outcomes when the case facts are specifically focused on issues seemingly more relevant, as in cases of sexual assault, domestic violence, or a minority group defendant (Crowley, O'Callaghan, & Ball, 1994; Gowan & Zimmerman, 1996; Greenwald, Tomkins, Kenning, & Zavodny, 1990; Pfeifer & Ogloff, 1991). Though some inconsistency still exists in regard to the juror demographics, increasing evidence is suggests that sex and racial characteristics of the important legal actors (judge, attorney, and defendant) may also play a prominent role in juror decision making (Goodman, Loftus, Miller, & Greene, 1991; Gordon, 1990). 

Studies assessing attitudes and personality also report mixed results. Researchers have not found a consistent relationship between aspects of personality such as belief in a just world, locus of control, socialization, and conviction-proneness (Mills & Bohannon, 1980; Moran & Comfort, 1982, 1986). Two exceptions appear to be attitudes toward the death penalty and authoritarianism. Though the Supreme Court has refused to recognize the conclusions in regard to juror attitudes toward the death penalty (Lockhart v. McCree, 1986), results of a number of studies suggest a tendency to convict by those who are pro-death penalty (e.g., Cowan, Thompson, & Ellsworth, 1984; Fitzerald & Ellsworth, 1984; Ellsworth, Bukaty, Cowan, & Thompson, 1984). Authoritarianism also has demonstrated greater consistency than the other attitudinal and personality characteristics while a review suggests that authoritarianism, especially legal authoritarianism, correlates strongly with the verdict decision (Narby et al., 1993). Legal authoritarianism is the specific belief in the authority and just power of the legal system and its actors. 

Effects of Courtroom Procedure on Mock Juror Verdicts

Although individual differences, primarily among jurors but also the other legal actors, have resulted in modest relationships with trial outcome, the juror literature focusing on evidentiary and procedural aspects of the legal system appear to have resulted in greater insights (Penrod & Cutler, 1987). Procedural aspects of psychology and law research, focus on the methods and processes by which individuals (e.g., defendants, victims, judges, jurors, attorneys) move through the legal system, primarily those procedures occurring during criminal and civil trials. A number of Supreme Court decisions have resulted in important procedural changes that spurred psychologists into new areas of investigation (e.g., Batson v. Kentucky, 1986; Wainright v. Witt, 1985). Our legal system is constantly striving for justice and psycholegal research often is able to offer answers into procedural changes that the courts are contemplating or have already taken action upon. Investigations of trial procedures have focused on the size of the jury, the specific instructions given to the jury prior to deliberation, the unanimity of jury decision rules, and pre-trial publicity, juror note taking among others. 

Several Supreme Court decisions during the 1970s concluded that juries smaller than the standard 12 person jury did not violate constitutional due process requirements (Ballew v. Georgia, 1978; Colgrove v. Battin, 1973, Williams v. Florida, 1970). However, concern was expressed that a reduction in the actual size of the jury could impact the quality of the deliberation, the reliability of the jury's fact-finding, the ratio of non-guilty to guilty verdicts, individual ability to resist majority pressure, and community representation of the jury (see Williams v. Florida, 1970). A recent quantitative review (i.e., meta-analysis) of the literature revealed larger juries are more likely to contain minority group members, deliberate longer, become deadlocked more often, and demonstrate greater accuracy in recall of the trial testimony (Saks & Marti, 1997). Saks and Marti (1997) concluded the results suggest that the courts should re-examine their prior rulings in regard to the appropriateness of juries of less than 12 members. 

Jurors' comprehension of the instructions they receive from the court prior to beginning their deliberation has been thoroughly investigated. Studies have examined juror comprehension of death penalty instructions (Haney & Lynch, 1997), insanity instruction (Ogloff, 1991), and cases involving battered women who kill (Terrance, Matheson, & Spanos, 2000). This research generally reveals that jurors have difficulty understanding and applying judicial instructions. Though efforts have been undertaken to suggest modifications of jury instructions (Lind & Patridge, 1982), few alterations have been successful in improving juror comprehension (e.g., Haney & Lynch, 1997). 

Studies have shown that other legal and extra-legal procedural factors can also impact verdict outcome. For example, U. S. Supreme Court decisions allowing trial courts to use less than unanimous verdicts have prompted researchers to find that simple majority opinions may provide less opportunity for members to dissent but that these juries may demonstrate better recall of the trial testimony (Saks, 1977). Several studies also revealed that pretrial publicity has a tremendous impact upon verdict outcome and suggested that extensive steps should be taken to reduce or eliminate any resulting bias (e.g., Moran & Cutler, 1997; Ogloff & Vidmar, 1994; Studebaker & Penrod, 1997; Studebaker, Robbennolt, Pathal-Sharma, & Penrod, 2000). Other studies have revealed the advantages and disadvantages of jurors taking notes during testimony (Heuer & Penrod, 1989, 1994), allowing jurors to ask questions (Heuer & Penrod, 1988), judicial instructions to deadlocked juries (Smith & Kassin, 1993), privately retained versus court appointed attorneys (Beck & Shumsky, 1997), and improvement in the pretrial questioning of perspective jurors (Middendorf & Luginbuhl, 1995). 

The Impact of Evidentiary Psycholegal Research

A number of researchers have also investigated evidentiary aspects of the legal process. Many times the presentation of a piece of evidence in a particular manner or at a particular point in the trial may have profound impact upon the ultimate decision of the jurors. Researchers have examined the impact of expert witnesses across a broad range of case specific facts, the impact of out of court statements regarding a fact in question (i.e., hearsay), the presentation of information on coerced confessions, evidence on statistical probabilities, and a number of mediums for the presentation of evidence (e.g., computer animation). Attorneys want to know how they can best persuade a jury to believe in their client's innocence in a criminal trial or that their client has been wronged civilly. Psycholegal research is often able to lend some assistance with regard to the persuasiveness or impact of particular types of evidence. 

The largest body of evidentiary psycholegal research has focused on the use of expert witnesses. These research efforts are largely the result of the increasing demand for psychologists to testify on issues ranging from battered women syndrome to eyewitness memory. The presentation of expert testimony can be an opportunity to reeducate the jurors about particular psychological phenomena that are beyond the everyday knowledge of the juror (Blackman & Brickman, 1984). 

Much of the initial research centered on the impact of expert testimony to explain the relevant factors that influence eyewitness identification such as the relationship between eyewitness confidence and recall accuracy, the suggestibility of their memory, the presence of a weapon, and the impact of different police line-up procedures (see Cutler & Penrod, 1995). Additional efforts have examined the impact of expert testimony evidence focusing on battered woman syndrome (Schuller, Smith, & Olson, 1994), a defendant's insanity plea (Rogers, Bagby, Crouch, & Cutler, 1990), child sexual abuse (Crowley et al., 1994), rape trauma syndrome (Frazier & Borgida, 1992), and possible age discrimination (Raitz, Greene, Goodman, & Loftus, 1990). Though some studies appear to suggest that the introduction of expert testimony is not always effective in specific cases (compare Kasian, Spanos, Terrance, & Peebles, 1993, with Schuller & Hastings, 1996), studies have largely concluded that expert testimony can have a significant impact on the manner which jurors process the trial related information and their ultimate verdicts (e.g., Penrod & Cutler, 1987). 

The literature has continued to develop by not simply focusing on the impact of the introduction expert testimony in a variety of cases but by also examining more contextual issues (e.g., Kovera, Gresham, Borgida, & Gray, 1997). Studies have examined the impact that the strength of the expert's credentials have upon juror decision making (Cooper & Neuhaus, 2000), judicial limiting instructions (Schuller, 1995), complex presentations of expert evidence (Diamond & Casper, 1992), and the extent to which experts are allowed to issue testify (Fulero & Finkel, 1991). This research further identified the circumstances under which expert testimony is most likely to have an impact on the decision making process and when it is likely to inform the jury (Kovera et al., 1997). Given that expert testimony is increasingly being used in our court systems and that the courts have been increasing the scrutiny with which they examine such evidence (Landsman, 1995), it would appear that being able to identify those factors that make an expert's testimony more meaningful to judges and juries would hold real promise for making a difference in the judicial process. 

The examination of evidentiary factors in psychology and law research extended beyond expert testimony to a number of legally relevant and innovative issues. For example, Kassin and Neumann (1997) examined the impact of admission of the defendant's confession at trial compared to eyewitness identification, character testimony, or none of these. Results suggest that confessions are significantly more powerful than other types of evidence (Kassin & Neumann, 1997). Kassin and Sukel (1997) demonstrated that coerced confessions increased conviction rates even when jurors see them as less voluntary and believe they have less impact on the decision than a more voluntary confession. Studies also found that hearsay testimony, testimony given by a victim witness out of court, has a powerful impact upon juror decision making (Golding, Sanchez, & Sego, 1997; Schuller, 1995). The impact of statistical or probability evidence (e.g., evidence in DNA cases) has a significant impact on jurors' decisions, even though jurors do not use it in a perfectly appropriate manner (Smith, Penrod, Otto, & Park, 1996). Studies have examined the mediums by which we display evidence such as graphic photographs (Douglas, Lyon, & Ogloff, 1997) and computer-animated displays (Kassin & Dunn, 1997). They generally find that the more elaborate displays of evidence have greater impact on verdict decisions and that jurors may even deny that they had a greater impact on their decision making (see Douglas et al., 1997). 

It should be understood from this brief review of the literature that psycholegal research is not simply conducted within a vacuum. This research is used in arguments before the United States Supreme Court, by attorneys in specific trials and even conducted in anticipation of a particular trial in order for one side to better prepare their case. Alterations in the types of people serving on a jury, the size of the jury, the type of expert testimony that is offered, or whether a confession is coerced out of a defendant can have a profound impact on real people. Innocent people can go to prison and guilty people can be acquitted because of a failure to pay attention to psycholegal research or even on the basis of it. 

Eyewitness Identification and Recall

One of the most substantial bodies of research in psychology and law focuses on eyewitness memory or eyewitness identification. The scientific study of eyewitness memory has largely remained within the domain of psychology and the general study of memory has been integral to the development of psychology as a science (Wells, 1995). Eyewitness research primarily has focused on the victims of crime (i.e., eyewitnesses) and the factors that influence eyewitness performance. However, the issues important to eyewitness researchers have not strictly focused on memory constructs but also on other cognitive as well as social processes (Ross, Read, & Toglia, 1994; Wells, 1995). Many psycholegal researchers argue that the quantity of research focusing on eyewitness identification is a direct result of the magnitude of the problem of wrongful convictions based on false eyewitness reports (Loftus, 1993). Cutler and Penrod (1995) further conclude in their extensive examination of the literature that the accuracy of eyewitness identification is clearly impacted by a host of variables and that identification errors are not infrequent, though their frequency can not be conclusively determined by the psychological literature at this time. 

Variables Influencing Eyewitness Identification

One area of eyewitness research has focused on variables specific to the witness that influence later identification. Static or stable characteristics include sex, race, intelligence, age, and general facial recognition ability. Studies have found that such stable variables are not especially predictive of identification accuracy (Cutler & Penrod, 1995). Results focusing on dynamic or more malleable witness factors are mixed. For example, store cashiers are often told to pay special attention to a would be robber's face so that they can accurately identify them. Shapiro and Penrod (1986) made a quantitative examination (i.e., meta analysis) of several studies looking at differences among participants who either expected future identification or did not. Their results suggest that future expectations do not improve later identification accuracy (Shapiro & Penrod, 1986). Shapiro and Penrod (1986) also found that training participants in facial recognition to better remember perpetrator faces did not significantly improve their identification accuracy. However, they did find that training programs focusing on elaboration techniques where the participant is trained to make inferential personality judgments based on facial characteristics improve later identification accuracy (Shapiro & Penrod, 1986). These results seem to suggest that there may be particular witness variables that are beneficial in improving eyewitness identification accuracy. 

The effect of a number of variables concerning the target characteristics of the witnesses identification have also been investigated. Shapiro and Penrod's (1986) meta-analysis once again only found significant predictive relationships between the distinctiveness of the target's appearance and later accuracy. Target sex and race alone were not found to consistently impact the accuracy of the witnesses identification across the entire literature (Shapiro & Penrod, 1986). Studies have found that changes in facial characteristics (e.g., hair style, eye glasses, facial hair) and the use of disguises significantly alter participants' in later identification of the witness (e.g., Cutler, Penrod, & Martens, 1987a, 1987b; Patterson & Baddeley, 1977). The literature thereby indicates that specific target characteristics may hold some promise in regard to their influence on the accuracy of witness identification. 

The environment in which both the original event occurred and the post event information/setting took place are very often also significant factors in the accuracy of witness identification. Important research questions in this area include: What are the situational factors associated with eyewitness accuracy? Duration of the target exposure? Presence of a weapon? The seriousness of the crime? The general level of arousal experienced by the eyewitness? Cross-race identification and cross-gender identification of the witness and the target. All of these factors have been linked to the later accuracy of witness identification to varying degrees (Cutler & Penrod, 1995). For example, though witness and target race do not impact witness accuracy independently, when examined together own race recognitions are more accurate than other race recognitions (Anthony, Cooper, and Mullen, 1992). Post event factors such as the interval between the original witnessing of the event and the later identification, the manner in which the target is displayed (e.g., mugshots, lineup characteristics), and the recreation of the original witness context have all been found to alter accuracy of later identification (Cutler & Penrod, 1995). 

Eyewitness research primarily has focused on the influence of visual cues, mainly facial recognition, to the exclusion of the recollection of auditory information (Melara, DeWitt-Rickards, & O'Brien, 1989). However, auditory information may be the only evidence in some cases and a less developed line of research has centered around earwitness identification. Situations may occur in which a witness needs to identify a voice on the telephone, the direction of a gun shot, or source of a scream. Clifford (1980) reports that many of the basic flaws and assumptions of eyewitness identification have counterparts in earwitness identification. Earwitness researchers focus on many of the same questions. What effect does stress or arousal have upon the accuracy of recall? Does the gender or age of the speaker or the listener impact the accuracy of the witness? Are their certain interviewing and lineup procedures that can be used to better assist the witness in their identification or even bias them in one direction? Early efforts at testing this claim have found similar parallels between the eyewitness and earwitness literatures (e.g., Huss & Weaver, 1996; McAllister, Dale, & Keay, 1993; Yarmey, 1995).

Related Eyewitness Areas

Separate from the issues of eyewitness identification, researchers have also attempted to improve eyewitness reporting by investigating techniques designed to more fully and more accurately elicit information from eyewitnesses (Fisher, 1995). An approach that has led to a number of encouraging results is the use of the Cognitive Interview (see Fisher & Geiselman, 1992). This technique focuses on cognitive, social, and communication factors underlying eyewitness recall; it improves eyewitness recollection (Fisher, 1995). Research also has been conducted on the impact of the construction and conduct of police lineups. A review of this literature points to four criteria that could reduce the number of false convictions: (a) inform the eyewitness that the defendant may not be in the lineup, (b) construct the lineup so the suspect does not stand out, (c) the person administering the lineup should be blind as to the identity of the suspect, and (d) the certainty of the witness should be assessed before it can be contaminated by future interactions with the suspect (Wells & Seelau, 1995). 

A controversial topic in the eyewitness literature becoming increasingly important because of recent court cases is that of repressed or recovered memories (Lindsay & Read, 1995). The debate over repressed memories focuses on the scientific existence of childhood memories remaining hidden or out of the conscious awareness of an individual, only to return years later. Many researchers have expressed concern over the prevalence of child abuse and its damaging effects on the victims but have questioned the existence and prevalence of so called repressed memories (e.g., Loftus, 1997; Loftus & Ketcham, 1994). However, others have been equally vehement in their beliefs that millions of child sexual abuse victims carry hidden memories of these events into adulthood (e.g., Bass & Davis, 1994). Cases in which adult victims of child sexual abuse pursue legal action against their abusers 10, 20, or even 30 years later pose special problems for the legal system on a number of different levels (e.g., statute of limitation in criminal cases, admissibility of repressed memory testimony, legal need for additional substantiated testimony) and therefore hold great promise for psycholegal research to offer important information on the possible formation and prevalence of repressed memories (Lindsay & Read, 1995). In addition, the issues of childhood memory/witnessing go well beyond the arguments regarding the existence, prevalence, or possible induction of recovered memories. There is a large body of literature focusing on specific problems with questioning child witnesses and how to address those problems effectively whether the issue is childhood abuse or not (Perry & Wrightsman, 1991). 

Research in the Treatment of Forensic and Correctional Offenders

Research in forensic psychology is often separate and distinct from the broad field of psychology and law. The American Board of Forensic Psychology and the American Psychology-Law Society (1995) define forensic psychology as: 
the professional practice by psychologists within the areas of clinical psychology, counseling psychology, neuropsychology, and school psychology, when they are engaged regularly as experts and represents themselves as such, in an activity primarily intended to provide professional psychological expertise to the judicial system (p. 6).

Such a definition focuses the field on the mental health aspects of psychology and the law and away from the more experimental areas of jury selection and eyewitness identification. Issues in forensic psychology typically include appropriate interventions for criminal offenders, prediction of future dangerousness, issues surrounding competency and insanity, the feigning of mental illness (i.e., malingering), civil commitment, juvenile delinquency, child abuse, and neglect among others. Due to space limitations there are a number of issues relevant to clinical psychology that will not be examined under the framework of forensic psychology. In general most forensic research, as is true in most research in clinical psychology, can be divided into that focusing on treatment and assessment. 

The criminal justice system attempts to balance its treatment of offenders between two primary objectives: punishment for prior bad acts and prevention of future bad acts (Harvard Law Review, 1996). Concern over increasing crime rates has polarized policy makers with some individuals proposing to reduce criminal recidivism through harsher criminal sanctions (e.g., McCorkle, 1993) and other persons calling for the use of mental health interventions to decrease criminal behavior (e.g., Gendreau & Ross, 1987). Researcher want to be able to answer a number of questions. Is it possible to effectively treat criminal offenders? If so, what treatments are most likely to be effective? Are these treatments equally effective for all criminals? 

The early theories of criminal behavior that were spawned by a belief in rehabilitative efforts offered a preliminary foundation from which later interventions and treatment approaches were derived for criminal offenders (e.g., Yochelson & Samenow, 1976). As evaluations of offender treatment were produced (e.g., Kassenbaum, Ward, & Wilner, 1971), pessimism grew that the psychological interventions were not effective in rehabilitating criminal offenders (Martinson, 1974). However, more recent qualitative and quantitative reviews of the vast body of offender treatment literature are more optimistic and specific about what interventions are effective (Andrews, et al., 1990; Gendreau, 1996). 

Mental health interventions have often meet with mixed success among offender and antisocial populations (Stone, 1993); however, increasing attention is being focused on the cognitive correlates of criminal behavior and related treatment strategies (Andrews & Bonta, 1994). For example, one of the key elements in the treatment of sex offenders has been a focus on their cognitive distortions (Murphy, 1990). Some of the interest on cognitive correlates of criminal behavior can be traced back to the work of Yochelson and Samenow (1976) whose cognitive interpretation of criminal behavior identified a number of cognitive distortions that are characteristic of the criminal personality. Several researchers have since suggested that programs focusing on cognitive functioning are most likely to produce positive treatment outcomes (Izzo & Ross, 1990; Ross, Fabrino & Ewles, 1988). 
A number of researchers have identified and described a special segment of the offender population that appears to be the most dangerous, most resistant to intervention, and more likely to drop out of treatment (Hare, 1996). These individuals are often referred to as psychopaths and pose a special problems for forensic psychologists. Cleckley (1976) originally identified a number of traits associated with the psychopath including: (a) superficial charm and "good" intelligence, (b) absence of delusions and other signs of irrational thinking, (c) absence of nervousness" or psychoneurotic manifestations, (d) unreliability, (e) untruthfulness and insincerity, (f) lack of remorse or shame, (g) inadequately motivated antisocial behavior, (h) poor judgment and failure to learn by experience, (i) general poverty in major affective reactions, (j) specific loss of insight, (k) unresponsiveness in general interpersonal relations, (l) fantastic and uninviting behavior with drink and sometimes without, (m) sex life, impersonal, trivial, and poorly integrated, and (n) failure to follow any life plan. 

Psychopaths are estimated to be 15-30% of the total correctional population and differ from other criminal offenders along a number of important dimensions (Harris, Rice, & Cormier, 1991). These offenders are more likely to commit violent crimes and exhibit higher rates of violent recidivism than non psychopaths (Harris et al., 1991; Williamson, Hare, & Wong, 1987). Psychopaths also are more likely to victimize strangers than non psychopaths (Hare, McPherson, & Forth, 1988). In addition, research indicates that insight-oriented therapies are not highly successful with psychopaths and may even result in greater recidivism rates among treated psychopaths (Rice, Harris, & Cormier, 1992). Newman and Wallace (1993) have further proposed a response modulation hypothesis that focuses on the cognitive deficits of the psychopath that may provide additional implications for the treatment of even these most serious criminal offenders. 

Areas of Special Interest in Forensic Assessment

A second major area of research interest in forensic psychology has been forensic assessment. The courts often call on clinical psychologists to provide their psychological expertise in a matter before the court (e.g., insanity, competency to stand trial, likelihood of future dangerousness at the time of sentencing). Though there has been much debate among legal and psychological commentators as to the appropriate role of clinical psychologists in these matters, research and practice continue to focus on the area (see Melton, Petrila, Poythress, & Slobogin, 1997).


One of the assessment issues most often faced by forensic psychologists is that of competency (Melton et al., 1997). The general premise of the law is that a individual defendant must demonstrate particular minimum requirements in regard to their understanding of legal procedures and the possible consequences of any legal decision (see Dusky v. United States, 1960) if the interests of the individual and society are to be appropriately served by the law (Reisner & Slobogin, 1990). Much of the research on competency asks whether we are consistent and valid in our assessments and what measures are the most helpful. Furthermore, what variables are likely to be associated with competency? Competency may arise throughout the legal system in regard to standing trial, entering a plea, entering into a contract, and ability to consent to medical treatment (Melton et al., 1997). Though there are separate and distinct areas of competency, courts have ruled that defendants are required to exhibit similar abilities across different issues of competency (Godinez v. Moran, 1993). 

Though competency is a very broad legal term that takes on a number of different forms both in civil and criminal cases, competency to stand trial is by far the most prevalent issue a forensic psychologist must face and occurs in 10-15% of criminal cases (Poythress, Bonnie, Hoge, Monahan, & Oberlander, 1994). Of those individuals actually referred for competency evaluations, an average of 30% are initially found incompetent (Roesch & Golding, 1980). Early studies suggested that most of those individuals found incompetent to stand trial have marginal education, few ties to the community, have never been married, and have long histories of criminal justice and mental health involvement (Steadman, 1979). However, more recent research has found no differences between incompetent defendants and control groups in terms of education and mean number of arrests (Hoge, et al., 1997). Hoge et al. (1997) found that incompetent defendants differ from other defendants in regard to their history of hospitalization and outpatient mental health treatment, IQ, psychoticism, and depression. 

Though studies have found competency evaluations to be consistent across clinicians, examinations of the validity of these assessments have found that clinicians who are well trained can also achieve high validity (Nicholson & Kugler, 1991). Attainment of high reliability and validity figures have at least been due in part to the development of structured evaluations formats such as the Competency Screening Test, the Competency Screening Instrument, the Interdisciplinary Fitness Interview, and the Georgia Court Competency Test. Nonetheless, these instruments have been criticized for their limited focus on the issue of competency and lack of standardized administration (Grisso, 1986; Roesch & Golding, 1987; Roesch, Ogloff, & Golding, 1993). Recent development of the MacArthur Competence Research Instruments was intended to eliminate many of these criticisms (Appelbaum & Grisso, 1995; Hoge et al., 1997).


A number of misconceptions surround another area of forensic psychology, the defendant's mental state at the time of the offense or insanity. Although the general public believes a large number of criminal defendants use the insanity defense, an eight-state study conducted by Callahan, Steadman, McGreevy, and Robbins (1991) found the insanity defense was used in only 1% of all felony cases. The public also believes that most defendants who use the insanity defense are acquitted. Again, in the Callahan et al. (1991) study, they found that defendants were successful in only one-quarter of those cases in which it was used. A later study by Silver, Cirincione and Steadman (1995) confirms these findings. People also express concern that defendants found not guilty by reason of insanity are released back to society shortly after their trials. Steadman and Braff (1983) found that the average hospital stay was three and one-half years and the length appeared to be increasing over time. They also found longer stays for criminals who committed more serious crimes. Studies also show no difference in recidivism rates or slightly lower recidivism rates for defendants found not guilty by reason of insanity compared to guilty defendants (Cohen, Spodak, Silver, & Williams, 1988). 

Researchers focusing on insanity attempt to address many of the same questions as those focusing on incompetency do. What characteristics are associated with someone being insane? How can I reliably assess insanity and what psychological tools will be the most effective? However, research on the reliability and validity of insanity assessment is largely absent and those that have been conducted employ a number of dissimilar methodologies (Melton et al., 1997). Studies assessing the validity of insanity evaluations also are rare and suffer from the same methodological shortcomings from which competency studies suffer (Melton et al., 1997). Formal assessments of insanity are rare compared to competency evaluations. In fact, only the Rogers Criminal Responsibility Assessment Scale has been developed to assess insanity in a systematic manner; it has demonstrated acceptable preliminary psychometric properties (Rogers, Dolmetsch, & Cavanaugh, 1981). 

Though insanity standards vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and have changed over time, all standards require the presence of a mental illness. Research suggests that defendants exhibiting psychotic characteristics are most likely to be found not guilty by reason of insanity (Melton et al., 1997). Because the presence of a mental illness is necessary for the insanity defense, there is an obvious incentive to feign mental illness. As a result, feigning mental illness or malingering is a concern in insanity evaluations as well as most forensic evaluations. 


Though it is difficult to determine conclusively whether an individual is feigning mental illness, there are a number of mechanisms by which forensic psychologists can assess the probability of malingering. The MMPI has been used to determine malingering and has shown some ability to differentiate between honest responders and malingerers (Rogers, Sewell, & Salekin, 1994). Responses on psychological measures that even the most severely impaired person would be likely to succeed on, failure to take into account the difficulty of items where one would assume that "normals" do better on the easier items and poorer on the more difficult items, making approximate answers (i.e., near misses), scores below chance, inconsistent or atypical presentation, and especially marked variations in performance on several similar tests are all characteristic of malingering (Binder, 1992; Rogers, Harrell, & Liff, 1993). Moreover, Rogers and colleagues have developed a structured interview, the Structured Interview of Reported Symptoms (SIRS), as method to detect malingering and found it has the ability to detect malingering (Rogers et al., 1991; Rogers, Gillis, Dickens, & Bagby, 1991; Rogers, Kropp, Bagby, Dickens, 1992).

Risk Assessment

My own interests lie primarily in one of the most pervasive and increasingly important areas of forensic research both in terms of clinical practice and the law, risk assessment. I remember beginning my studies of psychology and wondering how one person could commit such horrific violence while other people could perform completely altruistic and self sacrificing acts. This led me to become interested in the scientific prediction of violence or risk. I wanted to be able to predict with some accuracy who the "bad boys" were going to be and what they were going to do. What were the situations that were more likely for them to become violent? What types of factors were likely to reduce their risk? Today risk assessment or risk management is one of the hottest topics in forensic psychology. 

Forensic psychologists are routinely called on to make assessments of an individual's risk to commit dangerous acts in sentencing, civil commitment, juvenile transfer, and insanity decisions (Heilbrun, 1997). Assessments in these matters may have far reaching impact and at least in part determine whether a person receives jail time, if they are institutionalized in a mental hospital, the length of their criminal sentence, if they are to be released from a mental hospital or prison, and even whether they are to be executed. Early efforts at risk assessment and dangerousness prediction, often referred to as first generation studies, were criticized because of clinicians' marked inability to accurately predict future violence with any certainty at above chance levels (Monahan, 1981). It was often said that one could flip a coin and predict as well as the "experts" at the time. These efforts were criticized because most of the high risk offenders used as participants were never released from the institution, predictions were not based on clinical assessments but administrative decisions, and researchers' use of poor outcome measures of violence (Monahan, 1981). However, recent reviews have been much more optimistic about the scientific basis for making risk assessments (see Grisso & Tomkins, 1996; Monahan & Steadman, 1994). 

Second and third generation studies have demonstrated that forensic psychologists are able to predict violence at higher than chance levels in at least some circumstances (e.g., Harris, Rice, & Quinsey, 1993; Lidz, Mulvey, & Gardner, 1993; Mossman, 1994). Researchers have begun to focus on both male and female participants, short-term hospitalizations and predictions, and multiple criterion measures (Monahan, 1996). The improvements in risk assessment can be largely attributed to constructive efforts at critiquing the body of research (e.g., Monahan, 1981, Otto, 1992) and the move away from clinical decision making and toward actuarial or empirically based decision making (e.g., Hare, 1991; Webster, Harris, Rice, Cormier, & Quinsey, 1994). Moreover, continued legal use of dangerousness predictions, despite their scientific shortcomings (e.g., Barefoot v. Estelle, 1983), provides an impetus for forensic psychologists to improve their reliability and validity. 

The use of actuarial or structured approaches, scales or psychological batteries mark a significant step forward for the practice and research of forensic psychology. Though the specific names of these techniques may not be of great importance to you, the identification of a growing list of measures attempting to quantity or objectively measure particularly subjective constructs in forensic psychology is of great importance. These structured approaches provide evidence of significant improvement in the forensic decision making process over simple clinical judgment. 

One of the earliest measures used for risk assessment is the Psychopathy Checklist (PCL; Hare, 1980). The revised version of the PCL, the PCL-R, consists of 20 items that are scored on a 0-2 point scale and assessed via both a semi-structured clinical interview and collateral review of psychiatric and correctional records (Hare, 1991). Though the PCL was not intended to be a measure of risk assessment, psychopathy has been identified as the single best predictor in the assessment of future violence (Rice & Harris, 1995; Serin, 1996). Moreover, the PCL and PCL-R have demonstrated acceptable reliability and validity (e.g., Harpur, Hare, & Hakstian, 1989; Kosson, Smith, & Newman, 1990; Newman & Kosson, 1986; Smith & Newman, 1990). 

Measures intended solely for the prediction of dangerousness have also been developed, many of which have incorporated psychopathy as a factor (e.g., Violence Risk Assessment Guide and the HCR-20). The Violence Risk Assessment Guide (VRAG) is a 12-item measure that was empirically derived from a sample of patients at a maximum security hospital (Harris et al., 1993). The items include scores on the PCL-R, elementary school maladjustment, marital status, age at index offense, victim injury index, male victim index offense, history of alcohol abuse, diagnosis of personality disorders and schizophrenia, separation from parents under the age of 16, failure on a conditional release, and history of property offenses. Further studies have shown that the VRAG performs equally well on forensic and prison populations, at shorter and longer intervals, and for different operationalizations of violence (see Rice, 1997). The HCR-20 is a 20-item measure to assess risk for future violence in offender and psychiatric populations with a scoring system similar to that of the PCL. The HCR-20 focuses on the historical, clinical, and risk variables believed to be the most relevant to predictions of future violence (Webster & Polvi, 1995). Though the evidence is limited at this time, independent raters appear to be able to code the HCR-20 reliably while it also demonstrates acceptable validity (Douglas & Webster, 1999). In addition, preliminary evidence indicates that the HCR-20 may be a better predictor than the PCL, largely due to the PCL:SV being an item within the HCR-20 (Douglas, Ogloff, Nicholls, & Grant, 1999). 

One of the major difficulties with earlier efforts at risk assessment was the use of solely forensic and offender populations. However, research has begun to focus on additional populations such as sex offenders, psychiatric inpatients, and community samples (Borum, 1996). Quinsey, Rice, and Harris (1995) developed an instrument for use on sex offenders and studies found that identification as a psychopath is associated with sex offending (e.g., Barbaree, Seto, Serin, Amos, & Preston, 1994). McNiel and Binder (1991) conducted research on the risk factors for inpatient violence. They developed an actuarial instrument for inpatient populations that outperformed most studies of clinical judgment and includes history of attacks, absence of suicidal behavior, a diagnosis of schizophrenia or mania, gender, and marital status as important variables (McNiel & Binder, 1994). Research was conducted on community samples (e.g., Gardner, Lidz, Mulvey, & Shaw, 1996). Gardner et al. (1996) compared their actuarial procedure with clinician's predictions of community violence for a sample of patients with mental illnesses. The actuarial methods were more accurate than the clinical predictions (Gardner et al., 1996). 

The Future of Risk Assessment and Dangerousness Prediction Research

Not only am I excited about how far the risk assessment literature has come but the future for my area of specialization appears even brighter. Though research on the prediction of dangerousness has been severely criticized over the last 20 years (e.g., Monahan, 1981), current efforts reflect tremendous improvement over the early attempts at risk assessment (e.g., Mossman, 1994). However, there are a number of ways in which future research could advance (e.g., Monahan & Steadman, 1994). Such advances will be in terms of methodology, policy considerations, and front-line use by practitioners. 

The most important trend that must continue is the use of actuarial or structured methods of violence prediction. Much of the improvement in our ability to predict dangerousness can be traced to our improvement in actuarial methods such as the PCL, VRAG, or methodologies employed by McNiel and Binder (1994) and Gardner et al., (1996). The next generation of research will extend these measures into specific subsamples as described before. The Spousal Risk Assessment Guide (Kropp, Hart, Webster, & Eaves, 1994), which focuses on perpetrators of domestic violence, is a structured approach in the early stages of development. The next generation of actuarial tools will be designed for similar specific populations. Although a measure such as the PCL-R may well be useful beyond the general offender populations, preliminary research on risk factors in specific areas such as domestic violence already suggests deviations from the predictive models associated with the first generation of actuarial tools (Saunders, 1995). 

Although broad-based actuarial methods may offer a significant advancement, they fail to account for the specific context in which the violence occurs (see Monahan & Steadman, 1994 for the importance of context). A particular personality disorder or age of the victim may well predict the probability of violence within a serious offender population, however, these variables are unlikely to generalize to perpetrators of domestic violence in the same manner. Moreover, context should not be viewed as a static variable but a dynamic one that is continually reassessed (Steadman et al., 1993). Currently, risk assessment is usually a one time event used to predict a single future event. The idea of an ongoing risk assessment naturally lends itself to the continuing management of risk assessment (Heilbrun, 1997). 

The issue of context should not only apply to the context in which the violence occurs but also the legal context in which the assessment is taken (Heilbrun, 1997). Many clinicians assume that the dangerousness they attempt to communicate in a civil commitment is parallel to dangerousness in the sentencing phase of a murder trial. However, it has been argued that clinicians need to take into account this legal context in their communication of dangerousness predictions (Schopp, 1996). It seems intuitive that a forensic psychologist also needs to take the legal context into account when formulating the actuarial tools used in the risk assessment. Future research will likely focus on the legal context as well as the context in which the dangerous behavior takes place. 

The statistical analysis used to communicate risk is methodological issue of great relevance to future research. Much of the dangerousness research has presented the results in terms 2 x 2 contingency tables in which yes/no decisions are easily communicated and depend on violence base rates (Hart, Webster, & Menzies, 1993). However, the use of receiver operating characteristics (ROC) is a technique independent of base rates that may more accurately describe and communicate the true probability of risk (Gardner et al., 1996; Mossman, 1994; Rice & Harris, 1995). ROC techniques have been borrowed from the psychophysiological literature examining signal detection theory. ROC techniques allow the decision maker to identify the point on a curve at which the most accurate decision can be made while being aware of the possibility of a false alarm. Mossman (1994) reports that in reanalyzing data from 44 prior risk assessment studies that ROC results strongly suggest predictions stronger than chance. Though a description of the intricacies of ROC is beyond the purpose of the current chapter, results of the above studies as well as its theoretical advantages over prior methods of analyses suggest that it offers a very useful tool for future violence research, especially those populations in which base rates are far lower than criminal populations. 

The clinical utility of these methods of risk assessment to individual practitioners or community agencies is another issue of potential relevance. Though many of the most recent actuarial methods provide for greater predictive accuracy, they have limitations for small scale assessments. A forensic psychologist performing an evaluation assessing the dangerousness of an individual acquitted of murder may find a lengthy interview and review of defendant's records too time consuming (e.g., PCL-R). A psychologist on a forensic unit may not have the resources to administer a lengthy measure or review records that are not immediately available. Although it may also be the duty of the staff psychologist to design a system in which such information is available, researchers should also keep in mind that the usefulness of a measure can vary tremendously given the resources available (Elbogen, Calkins, Tomkins, & Scalora, in press). 

Being able to predict and control human behavior is basic tenant of the discipline of psychology. Risk assessment attempts to do exactly that. I am personally very encouraged about the future of risk assessment. Forensic psychologists have come a long way in the last twenty years and have a fairly clear ideas of where they need to be in the next twenty years. However, it is not an easy task to predict human behavior with so many external factors at work all interacting to increase and decrease the probability of a particular individual acting out violently. The promise of this field and the willingness of researchers to learn from their past efforts excite and motivate me to be a part of it all. 

Future of Psychology and Law Research

Many of the issues likely to be important in regard to risk assessment are not unique to forensic psychology but also apply to the broader field of psychology and the law. For example, the importance of context also extends to much of the jury simulation research. Early efforts examined the impact of juror sex or personality differences but future research will continue to emphasize legally relevant evidentiary and procedural aspects. Psychology and law topics have long been criticized for being psychologically interesting while failing to exploit the legal relevance to its utmost. It may be psychologically fruitful to examine the effect of a particular procedural manipulation on the legal outcome; however, if the law is unlikely to adopt such a change because of legal precedent or legal utility, it is unlikely that this research will be legally meaningful. Research in psychology and law must strive to not only be interesting to the psychological researcher but also the legal community. 

As investigators in psychology and law attempt to improve the legal relevance of their research, they will need to pay greater attention to the court cases that shape their laboratory. For example, a United States Supreme Court case (Daubert v. Merrill Dow Pharmaceuticals Inc., 1993) clarified the previous standard for the admission of scientific evidence, the Frye Standard. Many individuals argue this case had real world implications concerning the type of evidence psychologists may testify to in court (see Faigman, 1995). The implications may also extend to the rigorousness of the research, the particular methodology employed, and to the types of evidence that are generally allowed (Faigman, 1995; Faigman, Porter & Saks, 1994; Penrod, Fulero, & Cutler, 1995). Though Daubert may be especially significant in terms of its broad impact, case law increasingly drives the research psychology (e.g., Neil v. Biggers, 1972). Future researchers will have to pay increasing attention to the developing case law to assure the legal relevance of their labors. 

Much of the psychology research focuses on issues of significance to criminal law. Perhaps researchers find these issues personally appealing, however, there are other areas of the law which also hold promise for psychology and law researchers. For example, a study by Stolle and Slain (1997) represents one of the few studies designed to examine the impact of contract law on our daily lives. We enter into such contracts whenever we purchase a movie ticket, check our coat, sign for repairs on a home appliance, and so on. Stolle and Slain (1997) found that individuals rarely understand the legal significance of these documents. Examination of the psychological principles at work in less popular areas of the law such as administrative law, estate law, and tax law also are under represented. An appropriate metaphor might be found between psychology's avoidance of most areas of the law and frontier wilderness of early 19th century United States. To realize the full impact of psychology, these unexamined areas of the law must be explored. 

The absence of overarching theoretical frameworks of paradigms to offer cohesion and direction to the field also have attracted criticism. However, there are some examples of paradigmatic efforts to organize the field. Monahan and Walker (1993) have categorized social science research in order to better assist legal decision makers. They propose that research which attempts to change the law be identified as social authority, research specific to a particular case be termed social fact, and research used in combination of these two be identified as social framework. They further argue some of this research should be treated as legal precedents, not as facts before the court (Monahan & Walker, 1988). The result would allow for greater access to psychology and law research and greater impact within the legal system (Monahan & Walker, 1993). 

Therapeutic jurisprudence has also been offered as a paradigm for psychology and the law research (see Wexler & Winick, 1996). Therapeutic jurisprudence examines the role of the law as a therapeutic agent and intends to produce research that is more relevant to legal reform. The intent is to uncover how psychology can shape the development of the law or the degree to which the law encourages the psychological and physical well being of individuals with which it comes into contact (Slobogin, 1996). Topics may include how the legal system influences the treatment of perpetrators of domestic violence (Simon, 1995), how the legal limitation of client-patient privilege impacts the therapeutic potential (Klotz, 1991), how fault-based compensation improves the recovery from personal injuries (Shuman, 1994), the impact of a normative focus on sexual predators (Schopp, 1995), and improvement in legal counseling (Patry, Wexler, Stolle, & Tomkins, 1998). The intent is to bring together social science research that may be seemingly unrelated and promote programs of research that focus on the therapeutic impact of the law (Wexler & Winick, 1996). 

Researchers in psychology and law have also called for an increase in comparative scholarship examining the discipline from an international perspective (Carson & Tomkins, 1997). They point to the dearth of research initiated by those outside of the United States (examples of international scholarship include Allan & Louw, 1997; Freckleton, 1997; Fulero & Turner, 1997) especially compared to other fields such as medicine (see Carson & Tomkins, 1997). A heightened awareness of research in other countries is especially relevant to psychology and law because the impetus for many of our research agendas are derived from the legal system; a system that is far from universal. Outside of the "Commonwealth" countries (e.g., Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, United States) adversarial legal systems are replaced by the European notion of truth seeking. The fundamentally different systems of justice may render comparative examinations of psychology and the law difficult; however, the infusion of new ideas, methodologies, and alternative approaches to address psychological aspects of the law are likely to open the discipline to a host of ideas and greatly enhance the field for future investigators (Carson & Tomkins, 1997). 

Beginning Research in Psychology and the Law

The comparative youth and development of the field and its relevance to real world problems make psychology and the law increasingly attractive to students. This popularity lead to a national conference intended to evaluate the training that students at the undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate levels receive and to propose more effective models (see Bersoff et al., 1997). Conference participants generally endorsed five areas they found to be integral to training in psychology and law: they identified a core knowledge in the basic areas of psychology, firm knowledge of research design and statistics, legal knowledge, foundational courses in legal psychology, and participating in original research and scholarship as fundamental to sound training in law and psychology (Bersoff et al., 1997). These basic areas provide a useful framework for beginning researchers in law and psychology. It is clear that a basic knowledge in psychological principles and methodology is imperative. Moreover, knowledge in psychology and law along with the law specifically is critical. However, the conference did not specify the method by which such training should take place. 

The most obvious manner in which one can receive training in psychology and the law is through specifically designed programs. Such opportunities include psychology programs that offer the opportunity to specialize in psychology and law as well as specifically designed joint-degree programs offering degrees in both psychology and the law. There are a number of universities that offer specialty training in psychology and law culminating solely in the PhD (e.g., University of Alabama, University of British Columbia, Florida International University, University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Kansas, University of Nevada-Reno, Queen's University, Simon Fraser University, St. Louis University, University of Texas at El Paso, and the University of Virginia). There are also programs that offer a terminal Master's degree (e.g., Castleton State College, John Jay College, University of Denver). In addition, there are several universities that formally offer joint JD/PhD training (e.g., Allegheny University of the Health Sciences-Villanova University, University of Arizona, and University of Nebraska); one PsyD/JD Program (Widener University) (Bersoff et al., 1997; Ogloff et al., 1996). The University of Nebraska and Stanford University also offer abbreviated legal training culminating in the Masters' in Legal Studies (MLS) and a PhD.

Both the specialty options and the joint-degree programs offer advantages and disadvantages. A joint degree offers a broader exposure to areas of the law that are under-represented, the special credentials may assist a student in obtaining certain employment opportunities, and many individuals argue there is something special about the simultaneous exposure to training in the law and psychology (Hafemeister, Ogloff, & Small, 1990). The joint-degree programs usually take longer because of the additional degree and require additional motivation from the student, increase the cost to the student, and particular career opportunities may eliminated by obtaining the joint degree (see Melton et al., 1998, for a fuller explanation).

Whatever reasons a student pursues either joint-degree training or specialized training, it is clear that a solid foundation in basic methodology, statistics, and courses in psychology are important before pursuing graduate training and while pursing graduate training in law and psychology (Bersoff et al., 1997). Many undergraduate institutions offers specific courses on psychology and law. Students should be encouraged to enroll in these courses but not feel that they are at a distinct disadvantage if their university does not offer a course in psychology and law or forensic psychology. If such a course is not offered at your particular institution, students should approach a professor and request a special readings course in psychology and law. In addition, undergraduate students should be encouraged to get involved in psycholegal research with a faculty sponsor. Though any research experience is invaluable for admission to graduate school, exposure to a particular area of the literature that may have only been briefly summarized here can be important for a number of reasons. It gives the student exposure to the most current research in a particular psycholegal area, allows him/her to evaluate where their psycholegal interests actually may lie, and gives them first hand exposure to the methodologies that may be specific to psycholegal research and their implementation in a particular project. Student should also be encouraged to join professional organization such as the American Psychology-Law Society (AP-LS) where they can receive a subscription to Law and Human Behavior with their membership. AP-LS has established at web page ( that contains membership information and additional details on law and psychology. AP-LS holds a biennial conference offers any interested students a broad exposure to the field that can be invaluable in terms of sparking interest or focusing it. 


It was my intent to touch on some of the important topics of research in psychology and law as well as identify important issues for researchers in the next century. The breadth and richness of the questions that remain unexamined in this area of psychology are remarkable. Students intent on pursuing a career in the more experimentally focused areas of research or the more applied areas of the field such as forensic assessment are likely to have a rewarding future ahead of them. Now is a time both when psychology is beginning to realize the impact it can have on the law and society; and the law is beginning to realize that psychology may have something to offer it.


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Matthew T. Huss is a graduate of the Clinical Psychology Training Program and the Law and Psychology Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska where he teaches Introductory Psychology, Psychology and the Law, Forensic Psychology, and Abnormal Psychology.

The author was supported as a predoctoral fellow by an NIMH Training grant, "Training in Mental Health and Justice Systems Research" (#5 T32 MH16156-17), during the preparation of this manuscript. I would like to acknowledge Alan Tomkins, Steve Penrod, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on a prior draft of this manuscript. 

The author is now an assistant professor at Creighton University. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Matthew T. Huss, Department of Psychology, Creighton University, Omaha, NE 68178, (402) 280-3772.

The author may be reached at

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