My research focuses on the application of social and cognitive psychology in both the civil and criminal context. The following are some recent research projects undertaken by my undergraduate and graduate students under my supervision. This research has been completed in various contexts: independent study, undergraduate [including honors] and graduate thesis projects.

Please note: All Abstracts taken from students’ research papers.

Jurors’ Use of Non-statutory Aggravating and Mitigating Evidence in the Context of Improper Prosecutor Argument

with Alicia Serpa

Abstract

In a 2 x 3 x 2 between-subjects experiment, 133 participants were exposed to improper prosecutor argument as well as non-statutory aggravating and mitigating evidence. Non-statutory aggravating evidence was presented as victim impact testimony. Dependent measures included sentence recommendation, consideration of both prosecutor argument and non-statutory mitigating and aggravating evidence. Findings suggest jurors may misuse mitigation when presented with victim impact evidence and improper prosecutor argument. In addition, results indicate affective processes influence perceptions of testimony. Negative mood was associated with perceptions of the defendant as socially valuable compared to evidence that depicted the defendant as experiencing a troubled life.

Alicia presented the results of her thesis as a paper presentation at the 4th International Congress of Psychology and Law, Miami, FL in March 2011.

The Efficacy of Legal Safeguards to Improper Prosecutor Argument

with Rachel Small

 Abstract

In a 2 x 4 + 1 between-subjects experiment, 140 participants were exposed to improper prosecutor argument as well as victim impact evidence and non-statutory mitigating evidence. The ability of legal safeguards to neutralize improper prosecutor argument was tested. Dependent measures included sentence recommendation, consideration of both prosecutor argument and non-statutory mitigating and aggravating evidence. Preliminary analyses demonstrated a significant relationship between legal safeguards and jurors’ perceptions of prosecutorial misconduct. In addition, preliminary results indicate a significant IV/DV association between legal safeguard and sentence. A theoretically relevant path model was conducted using multiple regression analysis, and identified mediating effects of Attitudes Toward the Death Penalty on the relationship between affective and cognitive processes and

Rachel presented the results of her thesis as a paper presentation at the annual meeting of American Psychology-Law Society in March 2012 in San Juan, PR.

Jurors’ Assessments of the Co-Morbid Attributes of a Gambling Addiction

with Amber Monck and Emily Pammett

 Abstract

In the current study we examine how jury-eligible community members consider the co-morbid aspects of a gambling addiction. In the context of expert testimony, we will investigate perceptions of gambling co-occurring with other addictions such as alcohol and substance abuse. In addition, we will investigate whether jurors consider evidence of gambling as a non-statutory mitigating circumstance category of substantial impairment. Finally, we will use a path analysis to examine the mediating influence of affective states on capital sentencing decisions. We expect the comorbidity aspects of gambling will moderate the relation between defendant gender and perceptions of the gambling addiction.

Amber and Emily presented the results this project at a poster session at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science in Chicago, May 2012.

Assessment of Evidence of Physical Abuse as a Non-Statutory Mitigating Circumstance

with Fotine Konstantopoulou

Abstract

This study will examine the role of a specific instruction designed to guide jurors on non-statutory mitigating circumstances in determining sentence preference. To date, there is no research examining whether specific instructions provide more guidance compared to general instructions. We expect specific mitigation instructions will minimize death penalty verdicts compared to generic instructions and revised instructions. We also expect that the instruction effect will be moderated through expert testimony of the effects of the defendant suffering physically abuse throughout childhood vs. no evidence of physical abuse. Both the cognitive and affective processes of participant-jurors will mediate our manipulated trial factors.