TEACHING LEGAL PSYCHOLOGY AS AN APPLICATION OF SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY
The theories and research findings in social psychology can be very useful not only to nurture the development per se of this specialized area, but also to better understand problems and potential applications that arise in the real world. The usual areas that are defined as applications of social psychology are psychological and physical health, business in the workplace and in the market place, as well as the application of social psychology to the law (Kassin, Brehm & Fein, 2005). Of interest to us among those different applications is the field of legal psychology (also called “forensic psychology”, when the emphasis is put on expert witnessing). Many of the applications that derive from the interface between law and psychology, like, for instance, the selection of jurors, jury deliberations, eyewitness testimony, pre-trial publicity, credibility assessment, judge’s instructions, all which are part of the trial process, to name just a few sub-areas, find their roots and link with social psychological concepts and research (such as the theory of reconstructive memory, the cross-racial identification bias, theories of group polarization and of group decision making, to name just a few). Teaching legal psychology therefore requires by the students a prerequisite knowledge and understanding of these concepts and of their underlying theories. It also requires the constant matching by the teacher of social psychological concepts with their applications in the legal area. In this presentation, our goal will be to show how a better understanding of legal psychology, both as a research enterprise and a professional application, can be achieved by linking it with some of the basic ideas that support social psychology. Examples, such as, for instance, the influence of group polarization in the jury decision making process, or how can attitudes and biases influence the jury selection process, will be used to provide a better insight into these questions. And since credibility assessment is our present field of psycho-legal research, we will also look more in depth at ways of informing judicial decision makers (i.e. judges and magistrates) on what psychology can offer them to help achieve better performance in credibility assessment and what factors are present in cross-cultural credibility evaluation ; for this purpose, we will describe an experiential workshop that we designed and that was successfully used with Canadian Superior Court judges and law students to help them get a better insight in the psychological factors that are present when they assess the credibility of a witness or of an accused. So, not only will we be looking at ways of teaching psycho-legal concepts to psychology students, but also to actors of the judiciary system and to law students. In conclusion, we will try to identify the different areas of legal psychology that can profit from more applied research and we will try to show how social psychology can make further contributions to help better identify problems and solutions within the legal system.
© 2008 Victor Karandashev