Research

Our lab is directed by Dr. Jessica M. Salerno, an Associate Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University. Our goal is to apply social psychological theory to legal contexts, to advance basic research about social judgment and decision making processes with an eye toward real-world impact on making our legal system more fair and just. We investigate many basic social psychological processes, including moral judgment, intergroup biases (racial, gender, LGBT, etc.), stereotyping and prejudice, the impact of diversity on decision making, social influence and persuasion, and the impact of both experiencing and expressing emotion during legal decision making. We tend to test these phenomena in the realm of legal decision making from how people judge crime witnesses to how juries are selected and make decisions and many other legal contexts. Another goal of our lab is to investigate how these decision making processes might differ for individuals versus groups.  For example, we investigate how extra-legal factors influence both individual jurors’ and juries’ decisions, with a strong emphasis on the group deliberation process. Another hallmark of our lab's approach is to test our hypotheses across both psychological experiments and real-world archival data.

Our laboratory is very collaborative. In addition to students' independent projects, we always have many projects going on that involve many graduate and undergraduate students on project teams. Below are a few examples of lab-wide programs of research exploring basic judgment and decision-making processes in legal contexts.

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Jury Selection and Racial Diversity 

We have several projects investigating how to improve jury selection procedures. Several are focused on how to promote racial diversity on juries. As an example, our lab currently has grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Justice to investigate the impact of a new rule in Arizona courts (the first of its kind!) that that limits attorney discretion in jury selection by banning peremptory challenges, with the goal of reducing racial bias in jury selection and diversifying juries. In addition to analyzing data on juror demographics before and after the ban, we are also conducting behavioral coding of videotapes of real voir dire sessions to see how the implementation of this new rule changes the way that jury selection is conducted in Arizona.

A few research questions in this program of research:

  • Does the ban on peremptory challenges in Arizona increase racial diversity on Arizona juries?

  • Does racial diversity reduce disparities in trial outcomes for racial minority defendants?

  • How does Arizona’s new rule regarding jury selection impact how attorneys conduct voir dire? How judges respond to challenges for cause?

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911 Project: Falling Under the Lens of Suspicion 

Every wrongful conviction begins with an innocent person becoming a suspect. This collaborative project, funded by the National Science Foundation, investigates theory-driven behavioral, linguistic, and acoustic aspects of a 911 call that trigger feelings of suspicion in real and simulated 911 calls among laypeople and experts (police officers, 911 operators, trauma clinicians). 

For this project we are collaborating with a cognitive data scientist (Dr. Nick Duran) in our school to broaden our analysis from social judgments to more objective linguistic and acoustic predictors of suspicion and guilt.

A few research questions in this program of research:

  • What are officers assumptions for "normal behavior" when a witness reports a violent crime?

  • Are there "normal" behaviors in 911 calls?

  • What makes innocent people more likely to be targeted as a suspect in the first place?

  • What behavioral, linguistic, and acoustic aspects of 911 calls trigger feelings of suspicion? Do they coincide with predictors of actual prosecution and conviction?

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The Impact of Gruesome Images and Jury Instructions on Mock Jury Decisions

We just finished collecting a study funded by the National Science Foundation to investigate how gruesome images affect juror and jury decision making and whether their impact might be mitigated by emotion-awareness jury instructions or jury deliberation. We also monitored mock jurors' physiological responses to case evidence to see how jurors' bodies react to emotionally disturbing evidence and how those affective responses are related to their judgments in the case. We are just beginning to dig into analyzing the impact of gruesome photographs and interventions to mitigate their impact on jurors' physiology and behavior during deliberation.

A few research questions in this program of research:

  • How are gruesome images discussed during group deliberations? 

  • Do gruesome images affect jurors' perceptions of evidence and case judgments?

  • Do jurors' physiological reactions to gruesome images predict their opinions of the case?

  • Do jury instructions that call jurors' awareness to the potentially biasing effect of their emotional responses reduce the impact of the photographs? How do jurors "use" these instructions during deliberation?

  • If jurors express their emotional reactions during deliberation affect their influence over other jurors' opinions? Does this effect depend on their race or gender?

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Psychological Study of Civil Juror Decision Making

Many psychology and law scholars focus on criminal juror decision making- but the psychology of civil juror decision making might differ in important ways with important real-world implications. We are exploring several projects to understand the psychology of civil decision making through both mock juror experiments and coding of real civil jury trials. 

A few research questions in this program of research:

  • Do regional implicit gender and/or racial biases predict greater disparities in case outcomes for legal actors based on their gender or race? 

  • Do implicit bias interventions reduce biases in civil cases? 

  • How do we improve better ways of detecting bias that can be implemented to improve voir dire and jury selection processes that ultimately lead to more fair juries?