Tag Archives: law and psychology

Reprinted from Phys.org, March 15, 2018.

Teenagers are more likely to plead guilty to crimes they did not commit because they are less able to make mature decisions, new research shows.

Experts have called for major changes to the criminal justice system after finding innocent younger people are far more likely admit to offences, even when innocent, than adults.

Those who carried out the study say teenagers should not be allowed to make deals where they face a lesser charge in return for pleading guilty. The study suggests young people are more likely to be enticed by these deals, and take what they see as an advantageous offer even when they have done nothing wrong.

Most criminal convictions in the UK and the USA occur as the result of guilty pleas, rather than trial. This means the majority of convictions are the result of decisions made by people accused of crimes rather than jurors.

The research was carried out in the USA, where a system known as "plea bargaining" is utilised, but the academics say their discovery has implications for countries across the world that allow teenagers accused of crimes to receive a sentence or charge reduction by pleading guilty. Specifically, the researchers recommend restricting reductions that may entice innocent teenagers into pleading guilty and making it easier for teenagers to change pleas after they have been entered.

Other research has found adolescents are less able to perceive risk and resist the influence of peers because of developmental immaturity.

Rebecca Helm, Ph.D., HD '18

Dr Rebecca Helm, from the University of Exeter Law School, who was part of the research team said: "It is important to ensure the people accused of crimes have the capacity and freedom to make sensible decisions about whether to plead guilty. Where systems allow defendants to receive a reduced sentence or charge by pleading guilty they need to ensure that defendants are suitably developed to make such decisions and that they have the necessary levels of understanding, reasoning, and appreciation.

"We hope this research will lead to plea systems becoming fairer and less coercive for adolescents. Any restrictions on guilty pleas for adolescents would have to be introduced in a way that avoids harsher average sentences being imposed on adolescents. However, research increasingly suggests that in the same way as they are too young to vote, too young to drink alcohol, and too young to rent a home, perhaps adolescents are too young to plead guilty."

Valerie Reyna, Lois and Melvin Tukman Professor

Dr Helm and Professor Valerie F. Reyna, Allison A. Franz, and Rachel Z. Novick from Cornell University tested decision making among people of different ages. Participants were 149 adolescents recruited from high schools and middle schools in New York aged from 9 to 17, 200 students from Cornell University aged between 18 and 22, and 187 adults from across America.

Participants were given the same hypothetical situation in which they were asked to indicate the decisions they would make if accused of a crime. Participants were either asked to imagine they were guilty or not guilty of the crime, and were told the approximate likelihood of conviction at trial and the reductions that could be gained by pleading guilty as opposed to being convicted at trial.

The research found that as people become older, those who are innocent are less likely to plead guilty. Innocent teenagers indicated that they would plead guilty in roughly one-third of cases, while innocent adults indicated that they would plead guilty in just 18 per cent of cases. Importantly, when examining the decisions researchers found that teenagers were significantly less influenced in their decision-making by whether they were guilty or innocent than adults were. Results also suggest that adolescents are making decisions that do not reflect their values and preferences, including those relating to admitting guilt when innocent, due to developmental immaturity.

Although this was an experiment, the academics believe the findings have important implications for the juvenile justice system.

"Too Young to Plead? Risk, Rationality, and Plea Bargaining's Innocence Problem in Adolescents" is published in the journal Psychology, Public Policy, and Law.

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-03-teenagers-guilty-crimes-didnt-commit.html#jCp

Reprinted from The Cornell Chronicle, September 14, 2017.

by Stephen D'Angelo

Stephen Ceci

Stephen Ceci, the Helen L. Carr Professor of Developmental Psychology in the Department of Human Development, will receive the American Psychological Associations’ G. Stanley Hall award for distinguished contributions to developmental science at APA’s August 2018 meeting in San Francisco.

The highest honor in the field of developmental psychology, the award is given to an individual or research team who has made distinguished contributions to developmental psychology in research, student training and other scholarly endeavors.

“Steve has made seminal contributions to the basic scientific research of the developing mind in young children and to the critical translation of research findings to real-life settings,” said Qi Wang, professor of human development and department chair. “His work best exemplifies the integrative approaches that we take in the use of scientific theories and methods to vigorously study real-world problems in diverse populations.”

The award is based on the scientific merit of the individual’s work, the importance of this work for opening up new empirical or theoretical areas of developmental psychology, and the importance of the individual’s work in linking developmental psychology with issues confronting society or with other disciplines.

Ceci has written approximately 450 articles, books, commentaries, reviews and chapters. He has served on the advisory board of the National Science Foundation for seven years and was a member of the National Academy of Sciences’ Board of Behavioral and Sensory Sciences. He is past president of the Society for General Psychology, serves on 11 editorial boards, including Scientific American Mind, and is senior adviser to several journals.

Ceci’s honors include the American Academy of Forensic Psychology’s Lifetime Distinguished Contribution Award (2000), the American Psychological Association’s Division of Developmental Psychology’s Lifetime Award for Science and Society (2002), the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award for the Application of Psychology (2003), the Association for Psychological Science’s James McKeen Cattell Award (2005), the Society for Research in Child Development’s lifetime distinguished contribution award (2013) and the American Psychological Association’s E.L. Thorndike Award for lifetime contribution to empirical and theoretical psychology (2015).

Stephen D’Angelo is assistant director of communications at the College of Human Ecology.

Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, February 15, 2013


Stephen J. Ceci, the Helen L. Carr Professor of Developmental Psychology in the College of Human Ecology, will receive the 2013 Distinguished Scientific Contributions to Child Development Award, April 19 in Seattle from the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD), the largest organization of developmental psychologists in the world, the organization announced this week.

Ceci is the author or co-author of more than 400 academic publications, and, according to the society, one of the most cited developmental psychologists -- 35 of his articles and books have been cited more than 100 times each. All told, his work has been cited about 17,000 times, according to Google Scholar, with an H index of 55 (meaning that 55 of his articles have each been cited at least 55 times).

In the award nomination, Ceci's seminal scientific contributions were noted in the areas of everyday intelligence (with the late Cornell Professors Urie Bronfenbrenner and Ulric Neisser), sex differences in mathematical ability (with Cornell Professor Wendy M. Williams) and the reliability of child witnesses (with Maggie Bruck of Johns Hopkins University).

"His work on children's testimony is among the highest impact in psychology, having been cited in every level of judicial reasoning all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court's 2007 ruling in Kennedy v. Louisiana, which the Court reversed a lower court's death penalty verdict," says the SRCD. His research has been published in the leading developmental psychology journals as well as in the highly esteemed general journals in psychology, the award selections committee added.

The SRCD also noted that Ceci's work on the role of schooling in intelligence (Ceci, 1991, Developmental Psychology), cited around 600 times, according to Google Scholar, and his groundbreaking study of racetrack handicappers' intelligence (JEP:General, 1986), cited around 200 times, have been instrumental in shifting psychometrics from its reliance on theories of general intelligence toward a contextualist theory of everyday intelligence. This a view has become current among researchers even though it was not 25 years ago when Ceci's research began to challenge it by showing how cognitive performance is altered as a function of non-cognitive variables.

Ceci came to Cornell in 1980 and has since received lifetime distinguished scientist awards from the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Association for Psychological Science.

"We have run out of lifetime awards to recognize Steve's genius, which is a problem because he continues to do groundbreaking work," said Frank H. Farley, past president of APA and one of Ceci's nominators.


Charles Brainerd, professor and chair of human development, discusses the unreliability of witness testimony after New Jersey moved to instruct jurors about the limits of human memory.

“Eyewitness identification evidence is seen by jurors as being trustworthy and reliable,” said psychologist Charles Brainerd of Cornell University, who specializes in memory. “The science shows exactly the opposite.”

Read the full story

By Karene Booker
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, August 6, 2012


 Children often use language differently than adults when referring to a person or thing, which can result in misleading testimony, according to a new Cornell study.

"This is the first study to examine developmental differences in referential language ability as a factor in children's ability to provide accurate testimony," said Stephen Ceci, professor of human development in Cornell's College of Human Ecology. He co-authored the study, which appears in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology (33:4), with lead author David Battin, Ph.D. '04, assistant professor at SUNY Institute of Technology, and Barbara Lust, professor of human development, also in the College of Human Ecology.

For the study, 63 children from 3 to 10 years old were shown a four-minute video in which a woman knocked down a stack of empty cans after being asked not to. The researchers compared the ability of the younger children (3-5 years old) with older children (6-10 years old) to explain who did it.

Children as old as 10 used words such as "a," "the" and "they" to refer to the woman. Small changes in the use of these words have big consequences in terms of meaning, including number and specificity, which is critical for legal testimony, the researchers said. Furthermore, the younger children were often incapable of correcting their misleading statements during follow-up questioning, because they don't understand what information listeners need for clarity. Overall, 13 percent of the younger children and 63 percent of the older children provided the information necessary for accurate identification of the wrong-doer.

"We found children lead adult conversational partners astray by using the definite article ['the'] to introduce a new person or a thing when they should have used the indefinite article ['a']," said Battin. "But, the big surprise in this research was the very high rate at which both younger and older children initially used the plural pronoun 'they' to refer to the person who committed the highly salient and disallowed act of knocking the cans down," he said.

Ceci, who has consulted for law enforcement and the legal system for several decades, elaborated: "When police interview young children in a suspected day care abuse investigation, they can be seriously misled when child after child keeps referring to the suspected perpetrator as 'they' rather than 'he' or 'she.' It can lead to the pursuit of multiple perpetrators when the actual situation had only one."

This research was funded by the Cornell Cognitive Studies Program.

Karene Booker is an extension support specialist in the Department of Human Development.

By Susan Kelly
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, April 24, 2012

Cornell's Institute for the Social Sciences (ISS) has announced the recipients of its biannual small-grant award for interdisciplinary research and conference support. The grants support a wide range of topics, from "Platonic Friendship and Social Olfactory Cues in Human Body Odor" (Vivian Zayas, psychology), to "Elections, Accountability and Democratic Governance in Africa" (Muna Ndulo, law and African development).

The ISS small grant program is designed to assist Cornell's tenure-track and tenured faculty working within the social sciences. It also provides funding for research led by junior faculty members, projects that will subsequently seek external funding, and/or activities that will lead to ISS theme project proposals.

The spring 2012 recipients and their projects are:

  • Shorna Allred, natural resources, "Civic Engagement, Civil Society Organizations and Urban Environmental Governance: Implications for the New Environmental Politics of Urban Development";
  • Christopher Barrett, applied economics and management, "Targeting and Impacts of India's National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme";
  • Parfait Eloundou-Enyegue, development sociology; William Block, Cornell Institute for Social and Economic Research (CISER); and Sarah Giroux, development sociology, "Cyber-Boosting African Social Science: Exporting the CISER Experience";
  • Ziad Fahmy, Near Eastern studies, "Listening to the Nation: Mass Culture and Identities in Interwar Egypt";
  • Eli Friedman, international and comparative labor, "Education Work in China: A Comparative Study of Beijing's Separate School Systems";
  • Don Kenkel, policy analysis and management, "Health Insurance Choice and Utilization";
  • Stacey Langwick, anthropology, "Toward Sustainable Health: Modernizing Traditional Medicine in Tanzania";
  • Aija Leiponen, applied economics and management, "Innovating the Smart Grid: Organization of R&D, Standards and the Electricity Industry";
  • Jordan Matsudaira, policy analysis and management, "Modeling College Choice: The Role of Preferences and Constraints in Producing Disparities in College Attendance Outcomes";
  • Andrew Mertha, government, "Policymaking under the Shadow of Death: the Policymaking Process under the Khmer Rouge in Democratic Kampuchea";
  • Muna Ndulo, law and African development, "Elections, Accountability and Democratic Governance in Africa";
  • Valerie Reyna, human development, "Fuzzy-Trace Theory and the Law: Testing a Theoretical Model of Juror Damage Awards";
  • Andrey Ukhov, hotel administration, "Time-Varying Risk Preferences and Asset Prices: Evidence from Lottery Bonds"; and
  • Vivian Zayas, psychology, "Platonic Friendship and Social Olfactory Cues in Human Body Odor."

More information on these projects is available online.

By Karene Booker
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, October 18, 2011



How well adults can detect if children are lying or reporting misinformation is no better than the odds of chance, reports a new Cornell study. The findings have implications for physical and sexual abuse investigations, which often rely heavily on children's eyewitness reports.

Past research has repeatedly shown that adults are also poor at detecting whether or not other adults are lying.

"Our research suggests this lackluster performance extends to [interpreting] statements made by preschool-aged children," said Stephen Ceci, professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology and co-author of the study with Yi Shao, Ph.D. '10, assistant professor of psychology at Oklahoma City University.

The study, published in Applied Cognitive Psychology (25:1), is the first to assess adults' ability to detect the credibility of children's statements when they were telling the truth, deliberately lying or misreporting due to misleading suggestions.

Children may make inaccurate statements intentionally, Ceci said, if they have been coached to lie, for example, or unintentionally, perhaps due to suggestive questioning that alters the child's memory. In fact, suggestive interviews in investigations are a primary reason for children's unintentional misreporting, he said.

In the study, 129 college students assessed the credibility of statements made by 24 preschool children after a game of Simon Says. One-third of the children had been urged to deliberately misreport what they did during the game; one-third were asked suggestive questions designed to alter their memory of the events (e.g., they were asked, 'Dori [a stuffed animal] touched your knees, didn't she?' even though that did not happen during the game). The remaining third answered neutral questions.

The two types of inaccurate statements were perceived differently, the researchers found. Misinformation that resulted from misleading interviews was more readily detected than outright lies. But while the adults could accurately detect the truth at a rate greater than odds of chance, their ability to detect outright lies and misinformation from leading questioning was at a rate less than the odds of chance. The adults were most confident of their ratings of truth-telling children.

"Humans are inclined to believe what others tell them; they exhibit a truth bias," Ceci explained. This is a two-edged sword that suggests jurors will believe young children's accurate statements, but they will also tend to believe their inaccurate statements."

Misleading interviews are a well-recognized source of memory error yet persist in courtrooms, police departments and in therapeutic settings. In the study, children were subjected to only one event where an experimenter repeated a suggestive question up to three times.

"The effect of the suggestive questioning upon the children was substantial," Ceci said. "During debriefing the misled children generally maintained that their inaccurate answers were correct. They appeared to have incorporated the misinformation into their memory.

"Further research is needed to explore the parameters of these findings," he added. "We had expected that the misled children would be the hardest to detect because their memories had been altered, whereas the lying children were expected to display facial signs of deception that were detectable.

"Because the results were not in line with our expectations, we have several hunches that we plan to probe in subsequent research before these results are ready for translation to practitioners in the legal arena," Ceci said.

The study was supported by the College of Human Ecology.

Karene Booker is an extension support specialist in the Department of Human Development.

Related Links:
College of Human Ecology
Stephen Ceci
The study

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.

Related Links:
Dual PhD/JD Developmental Psychology and Law
College of Human Ecology

By Karene Booker

Valerie Reyna


Charles Brainerd


To "tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth" is the maxim guiding legal testimony. But what if the witness recalls something that didn't really happen? Memory is notoriously fickle and can be influenced by many factors, including how questions are asked. We often remember general impressions but not exact details of an event and draw on that impression to fill in the gaps, sometimes creating memories we never experienced.

Now Cornell researchers have found a way to distinguish true and false memories using methods that may ultimately help in the courtroom. Current forensic interviews do not assess the specific sensory qualities of witnesses' memories. According to the new study, published in Applied Cognitive Psychology (24:8), doing so could help sort fact from fiction.

The study shows that when a person remembers something that actually happened, they have a richer memory experience. They recall the details more easily, more vividly and with greater confidence than when they remember something that didn't occur.

“The study breaks new ground in applying research on false memory to forensic contexts,” said Valerie Reyna, professor of human development, who conducted the research with Charles Brainerd, Cornell professor of human development and of law, and first author Tammy Marche, University of Saskatchewan, Canada.

The researchers modified a widely used forensic memory test that measures how much individuals are influenced by misinformation and used it in combination with another memory test. For the study, 81 undergraduates listened to a story about an armed robbery and then answered questions about it. Many of the questions were misleading, asking about something that was not in the story.

The students were then asked to review each of their answers and rate the quality of their memory (i.e., how confident they were in their response, whether it was associated with sound, the strength of their feelings, whether it brought up associated story details, and how difficult it was to remember).

The researchers found reliable differences between how students rated their memory of the real story details versus false ones. When students claimed to have heard something that wasn't mentioned in the story, they reported a harder time remembering and less confidence in their answer compared with items actually in the story. When falsely recalling unmentioned details, they also reported less association with sound and with other facts in the story.

The researchers also found that when participants were forced to choose between two false options, they were more likely to be misled and remember story details incorrectly than when answering questions in a yes-no format.

"What is unique about the forensic context is the potential for memory to be corrupted during the fact-finding process itself," said Brainerd. The "Gudjonsson" test, used in this study, assesses the degree to which this corruption is possible for an individual. Applied in police interviewing and expert testimony in court cases, this test is used to assess witnesses' susceptibility to false memories (and thus whether they are likely to be inaccurate witnesses).

"Our results have real implications for the way witnesses are questioned by investigators and how to preserve accurate memories," said Reyna. "We hope these findings will lead the way to developing diagnostic methods that can be used to determine the truth of witnesses' memory reports."

This study was supported in part by the National Science Foundation and a St. Thomas More College research grant.

Equal Justice Under LawLast semester a team of instructional designers worked with Dr. Charles Brainerd to enrich his current course "Memory and the Law" with interactive content, quizzes, additional links, and video of his lectures. The Memory and the Law course at Cornell is a cross-college course (Law/Human Ecology) and students in this course come from very different backgrounds. The course is lecture-based, and the units of the course progress from exploring the science of memory to the application of memory issues in the courtroom. Brainerd saw this project as an opportunity to repurpose and augment his materials so that students could review the course content, but also so that professionals and other types of learners could benefit from the portions of the course that were specific to their immediate needs. The intention was to simultaneously provide materials for Cornell students, and to create materials that could be used in a future distance learning format.

Noni Korf Vidal, project manager for this project, and instructional projects manager for CIT, worked on this project with her colleague Eric Howd, and 3 of Dr. Brainerd's students, Courtney Eisner, Eric Zember, and Liz Curran. Their insights into how the course materials could be improved for students were an essential element in the process.

A comprehensive online FAQ document was among the course enhancements developed, based on analysis of past tests to identify concepts more frequently misunderstood. Dr. Brainerd’s lectures were recorded, benefiting both current students who may need to miss a class as well as distance learners. Supplementary video lectures were identified as well. Interactive diagrams were developed for some of the more complex models presented in the course. But most fun are the recreations of memory tests which are conducted in the classroom.

Click here and you can try a few examples! http://courses.cit.cornell.edu/hd3190/demo/

This project was one of the Faculty Innovation in Teaching (FIT) Program projects, 20 of which are awarded annually. The FIT program is part of a larger distributed learning initiative supported by the President and the Provost. The program is designed to allow faculty to develop innovative instructional technology projects that have the potential to improve the educational process. The program provides faculty with the technical staff and other resources necessary to plan and implement their projects, thus allowing faculty to focus on their pedagogical objectives.

The CIT staff who work on the FIT awards are also part of the Faculty Support Services team at CIT. They provide consultation for instructional design, use of course technologies such as BlackBoard, and helping faculty adapt technology for their teaching needs.

For Further Information

Faculty Innovation in Teaching Program http://innovation.cornell.edu/index.cfm

Law, Psychology and Human Development: http://www.human.cornell.edu /HD/Research/concentrations/law-psychology-and-human-development.cfm