I am beginning an Assistant Professor position at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. I will be teaching two sections of Cognitive Psychology and continuing my program of social-cognitive research. I earned my Ph.D. in Psychology at Iowa State University with joint involvement in both the Social and Cognitive Psychology programs under the direction of co-Major Professors Gary L. Wells (Social) and Jason C. K. Chan (Cognitive).
Broadly construed, my work focuses on issues within public policy and improving these issues through research. Please refer below for brief summaries of all my current research projects along with PDF links of relevant work.
PLEA BARGAINING (MASTER’S THESIS & DISSERTATION):
Approximately 95% of criminal convictions in the United States are the result of plea bargaining--these cases never enter a courtroom and are never heard by a jury. This fact runs in direct opposition to the extant research for which there is a prodigious literature examining juror decision-making, and little to no research on plea bargaining behaviors. My Master's thesis employed a novel modification to the well-known "cheating paradigm" first created to explore confession behaviors (Russano, Meissner, Narchet, & Kassin, 2005). In this exploratory plea-bargaining research, we found a false plea rate of 52% among innocent participants--this study offers the first proof that the long posited innocence problem is not just a hypothetical issue, innocent people do accept pleas. We are currently conducting follow-up research to determine factors that could reduce the false plea rate among innocent individuals. The future of plea bargaining policy is still being molded and should be guided by scientific research--in the most recent U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding plea bargaining, two ideologically opposed justices made the following comments illustrating the importance and timeliness of plea-bargaining in our criminal justice system:
"... the reality that criminal justice today is for the most part a system of pleas, not a system of trials" (Justice Kennedy writing for the majority in Lafler v. Cooper, 2012)
"... the Court today opens a whole new field of constitutionalized criminal procedure: plea-bargaining law" (Justice Scalia writing for the dissent in Lafler v. Cooper, 2012)
EYEWITNESS (RETRIEVAL-ENHANCED) SUGGESTIBILITY:
After individuals witness crimes, a number of factors can determine the subsequent accuracy of their witness statements and the rate at which those memories decay. Research on the misinformation effect has long illustrated the ease with which memory can be altered. Research has also shown that testing or repeated recall can significantly enhance memory retention. Given the robustness of these two effects, it is surprising that initial testing (recall) can actually increase later susceptibility to misinformation (Chan, Thomas, & Bulevich, 2009). Given the ubiquity of repeated recall in many real-life witness scenarios (e.g., the witness recalls the event to a 9-1-1 operator, police official, attorney, etc.), we have worked to determine which contexts result in this effect (i.e., increased susceptibility) and which produce a testing benefit. By further exploring the generalizeability and boundaries of this effect, we hope to further elucidate when repeated recall can be beneficial and when it can be detrimental--especially as applied to legal contexts.
Understanding facial recognition processes is vital to the improvement of eyewitness procedures. Mistaken eyewitness identifications are the source of approximately 75% of wrongful convictions (Scheck, Neufeld, & Dwyer, 2000). The extant literature exploring this issue has seemed to focus on factors that occur after one has witnessed a crime (e.g., police interactions with witnesses), and has largely ignored the effects of recognition processes while one witnesses a crime. Facial recognition is the foundation of the eyewitness experience and in order to fully understand the task of accurate eyewitness identification we need to further our understanding of how recognition interacts with the unique properties of psycho-legal procedures.
METACOGNITION & MEMORY:
The ability to accurately assess one's memory and knowledge has prodigious implications for numerous contexts. Many domains within psychology have consequently examined the effects of accurate (or inaccurate) metacognitive assessments on confidence judgments, judgments of learning, and many other such perceptions. In this line of research, we are exploring the effects of certain lecture and lecturer qualities on subsequent judgments of learning--these judgements (or predictions) of learned content are then compared with demonstrations of actual learning (e.g., free-recall test) later creating a measure of metacognitive accuracy (calibration). We are further exploring how these judgments of learning might affect subsequent motivations and behaviors toward the learned content. Although metacognition in this context might appear outside the major theme of research represented here (i.e., psychology and law), the implications of this research to teaching makes it a personally relevant and important pursuit.
When two or more individuals are accused of involvement in a criminal act, the legal system has the option of trying each defendant separately or trying all defendants allegedly involved in a single trial. If multiple defendants are tried in a single trial, jurors will hear separate prosecutorial and defense evidence related to each defendant. It is likely that the evidence related to each defendant varies in strength (e.g., police were able to gather fingerprint evidence that matches one defendant but not the other). At the conclusion of such a trial, the judge might administer specific instructions to the jury, admonishing them to consider the evidence presented for each defendant separately, and to come to independent verdicts for each defendant. In administering these instructions, the legal system assumes that jurors will have the capacity to treat each defendant independently and resist inferring guilt or innocence of one defendant based upon the evidence related to another defendant. While the overburdened legal system might find conducting multiple defendant trials more economically attractive, no experimental research exists to support the validity of trials in which jurors are assumed to generate independent verdicts for multiple defendants. The research most related to this issue has focused on joinder of offense cases in which a single defendant is tried, but for multiple offenses in the same trial. These studies have shown that trying a defendant for multiple offenses in a single trial does bias jurors' perceptions of the defendant and jurors' evaluations of trial evidence (Tanford & Penrod, 1982). The biasing effects of joinder cases in this literature emphasize the need to research possible biases in cases with multiple defendants. The aim of this research is to examine the effects of single- versus multiple-defendant cases on jurors' decision-making (e.g., their willingness to convict the defendant(s), perceptions of defendant criminality, ability to assess evidence, etc.). This research has received partial funding from the Psi Chi Graduate Research Grant, which will contribute the funds necessary to secure a community sample in the study population; this community extension will allow us more flexibility in generalizing our results to a broader United States juror pool.