By Lauren Gold
Reprinted from the Cornell Chronicle, September 6, 2011
The Cornell Law School and the Department of Human Development in the College of Human Ecology are accepting the first applications to a new dual Ph.D./J.D. degree program in developmental psychology and law.
The six-year program, which will enroll its inaugural class in fall 2012, is designed to train the next generation of scholars working at the interface of law, psychology and human development.
The dual degree program draws on Cornell's unique concentration of experts in experimental psychology and law, said Charles Brainerd, professor of human development and the program's lead creator.
"Cornell has a very, very long tradition in this area. For about three decades [Cornell has had] world leaders in psychology and law research," Brainerd said. "If you were to ask people around the world where to go for advanced training in this area, they would say, 'Cornell University.'"
The program builds on the 2007 creation of a concentration in law, psychology and human development in the Department of Human Development. That track, which Brainerd launched as a first step toward the dual degree program, is the most popular in the department among Ph.D. students.
Each student in the Ph.D./J.D. program will receive support from a three-member supervisory committee of human development and Law School faculty. The streamlined program is designed to integrate the two fields, with students spending the first two years working on Ph.D. research, the next two years in law school and the final two primarily on research. Completing the two degrees separately normally takes eight years.
The program will give students key advantages in a rapidly growing field, Brainerd said. For those primarily interested in research, "by having a law degree, they'll be able to do research in psychology that is very deeply informed and connected to the law," he said. Conversely, practicing law requires a keen understanding of the psychology of memory, judgment and decision making.
For example: Contrary to popular TV shows, the vast majority of criminal felony cases, including death penalty cases, rely solely on witness testimony. "Less than 5 percent of felonies have any forensic evidence at trial that bears directly on guilt or innocence," Brainerd said. Cases revolve on what people perceive, remember and testify to, and on how jurors integrate information and come to decisions.
Meanwhile, legal proceedings often rely on research findings of trained scientists, and law schools are also showing an increasing preference for faculty with Ph.D.s in associated fields.
Along with Brainerd, the program's core faculty include Stephen Ceci, John Eckenrode, Wendy Williams and Valerie Reyna from the Department of Human Development; David Dunning from the Department of Psychology; and John Blume, Valerie Hans, Sheri Johnson and Jeffrey Rachlinski from the Law School.