Category: Forensic

Offenders feel like victims when their victims don’t forgive them

By Emily Reynolds

Forgiveness is not always easy. Forgiving someone who has wronged you can lead to a decreased likelihood of repeat offending and increased likelihood that the perpetrator will engage in conciliatory behaviour — just some of the reasons restorative justice has become more popular. But victims of transgressions often find it hard to move on.

A study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin looks at what happens when victims don’t forgive and forget — and specifically how this makes offenders feel. The team finds that, if not offered forgiveness, those who have committed transgressions end up feeling like victims too.

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It’s Surprisingly Common To Misremember Where You Were On A Specific Time And Date

By Emma Young

Where were you at 8am two Tuesdays ago? If it’s a little tricky to recall, what if I presented you with a map with four location flags to choose from, each about 3-4 km apart, with one marking your actual location on that time and date?  Are you confident that you’d pick the right one?

If you are confident, the good news from a new paper in Psychological Science is that you’re more likely to be right than if you’re not too sure. The bad news is that when a group of students in Melbourne, Australia was tested in this way, they picked the wrong location 36% of the time. The study shows that this type of memory is pretty fallible — and yet it’s the type, of course, that’s needed for a criminal alibi. Failures in recalling where you were have no doubt contributed to serious miscarriages of justice, write Elizabeth Laliberte at the University of Melbourne and her colleagues.

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People Who Believe In Pure Evil Support Harsher Punishments For Perpetrators Of Violence

By Emily Reynolds

Whether you believe in such a thing as “pure evil” — that there are individuals inherently predisposed to intentionally harming others — can fundamentally change how you see the world. Strong belief in pure evil, for example, has been linked to increased support for the death penalty, torture, and racial prejudice.

Now a new study, published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, has looked at the link between belief in pure evil and the attributes we ascribe to perpetrators of violence. Focusing on mass shootings in the US, the team once again finds a relationship between belief in pure evil and harsher approaches to punishment.

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We Are Less Likely To Dehumanise Prisoners Who Are Approaching The End Of Their Sentence

By Emma Young

Criminals are often characterised in the popular press as “animals” or “cold-blooded”. Such adjectives effectively dehumanise them, and there’s no end of research finding that if we deny fully human emotional and thinking capacities to other people, we are less likely to treat them in a humane way. But how long does prisoner dehumanisation last? Is it a life sentence? Or, wondered the authors of a new paper, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, does it depend on how long a prisoner has left to serve?

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Gruesome Descriptions Can Make Crimes Seem Worse — But Judges And Lawyers Are Immune To This Bias

By Matthew Warren

We often like to think of ourselves as impartial decision-makers — but of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Our day-to-day thoughts and behaviours are biased in all kinds of ways. But is the same true for people in the legal profession, which prides itself on its supposed objectivity and fairness?

According to a new study in Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, judges and lawyers may be immune to at least some of the biases that affect the rest of us. In particular, their judgements seem less prone to the biasing effects of emotive language.

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People Often Don’t Understand The Psychology Of Confessions — And This Could Contribute To Wrongful Convictions

By Emily Reynolds

Not all confessions are created equal. In a criminal justice setting, some admissions of guilt are both sincere and corroborated — but others are not, having been coerced, given by vulnerable or underage defendants, or unreliably reported secondhand. Yet mock jury trials have shown that lay people often tend to take a confession at face value, handing down a guilty verdict without considering other potential evidence.

It’s with this in mind that Fabiana Alceste from City University of New York and colleagues question just how well people really understand the existing body of evidence on reliable, admissible confessions in a new paper in Applied Cognitive Psychology. The answer to that question could have ramifications not only for those on juries but also for the people they’re deciding whether to convict.

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We’re Not Good At Spotting When Someone Has A False Memory Of Committing A Crime

By Emily Reynolds

Our memories are not always reliable. But sometimes they’re rich, textured and vivid — even if they didn’t happen. Research has suggested false memories often have the descriptive, multisensory elements of real memories, a fact that obviously poses both interesting questions about memory itself and difficulties for those relying on eyewitness encounters for evidence.

But beyond the question of how people remember is another quandary: are we, as observers, able to tell whether someone’s memory is true or false? It’s a question tackled by UCL’s Julia Shaw in a new study published in Frontiers in Psychology — and she finds that not only are we susceptible to having memories planted, we’re not very good at working out when someone else’s memory is false either.

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Preliminary Evidence That Stress Makes Negative Memories Less Distinctive, With Implications For Witness Testimony 

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By Matthew Warren

Stress has complicated effects on our memories. Whereas some studies have found that we are better at remembering events that occurred during stressful situations, such as while watching disturbing videos, others have shown that stress impairs memory. Now a study published in Brain and Cognition suggests that stress doesn’t influence the strength of our emotional memories at all. Instead, the researchers claim, it is the fidelity of those memories – how distinct and precise they are – that changes when we go through stressful experiences. 

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People’s Sense Of Control Over Their Actions Is Reduced At A Fundamental Level When They’re Angry Or Afraid

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The findings lend some scientific legitimacy to the “I just lost it” defence

By Matthew Warren

During major bouts of anger or fear, people can end up taking extreme and sometimes violent actions. But they often say that, in the moment, they didn’t feel responsible for those actions – they “lost control” or “saw red”. In the UK, under certain circumstances, a person accused of murder can even claim that this “loss of control” led to them killing their victim. If successful, this defence can reduce charges to manslaughter.

Now the first study of its kind suggests that there is some truth to these claims. Participants put into a fearful or angry state really do seem to have a reduced sense of agency, according to a paper published recently in Experimental Brain Research, raising questions about the accountability of people going through extreme emotions.

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These Violent Delights Don’t Have Violent Ends: Study Finds No link Between Violent Video Games And Teen Aggression

GettyImages-180968005.jpgBy Matthew Warren

Claims that violent video games lead to aggression have been around since the days of Space Invaders. When young people are exposed to violent media, the theory goes, their aggressive thoughts become more prominent, leading them to commit acts of violence. But while several studies have found results that seem to back up this idea, the evidence is far from unequivocal.

Now a study published in Royal Society Open Science has failed to find any association between the time spent playing violent video games and aggressive behaviour, adding to a growing body of literature that suggests that such a link has been overstated – or may not exist at all.

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