Saturday, October 27, 2007

Second Article: Suspicion and Eyewitness IDs

Neuschatz, J., Lawson, D., Fairless, A., Powers, R., Neuschatz, J., Goodsell, C., & Toglia, M. (2007). The Mitigating Effects of Suspicion on Post-Identification Feedback and on Retrospective Eyewitness Memory Law and Human Behavior, 31 (3), 231-247 DOI: 10.1007/s10979-006-9047-7

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchOkay, now that we're getting into eyewitnessing I decided to post this one about identification instructions. For all you future lawyers, this has much more practical applications than last week's. Plus, since I know you're all studying furiously for the midterm, it's shorter, too. It's illustrative of a lot of the research done on eyewitness procedures in psychology, however.

One more nota bene before I launch into it: most of the authors are working out of the University of Alabama, which was one of the first American universities to offer a doctoral program for clinical psychologists working in the criminal justice system. It was set up by Stanley Brodsky, former head of the American Association of Correctional Psychologists and the man who turned Correctional Psychology into a fully-defined and accepted professional field in the 1970's.

Returning to the present, this study addresses one of the major problems encountered in eyewitness identification procedures carried out by the police: feedback. In 1999 a group of eminent psychologists, lawyers, and police officials were assembled by the Justice Department in order to come up with a guide for police on how to handle eyewitness testimony to ensure its reliability and admissibility. This resulted in "Eyewitness Evidence: A Guide for Law Enforcement." It covered most of the elements that affect the veracity of eyewitness testimony and laid out interviewing tactics that should be used. But, as Prof. Geiselman referenced, this is one of those books that gets tossed into a drawer in most precincts without being read (though there are several cities, such as Minneapolis, where these guidelines have been taken to heart and implemented in the force). One of the major sticking points in creating the Guide, though, was feedback. The psychologists, being scientists, insisted on a double-blind procedure where the officer administering the lineup was unfamiliar with the case and couldn't give any feedback, consciously or unconsciously, to the eyewitness. This was hard for the police to accept, though, since they took it as an accusation of dishonesty or attempting to sway witnesses. This dispute wasn't resolved, and so nothing about blind lineups was put in the Guide, so this is still very much an issue that anyone who deals with eyewitnesses has to confront.

The current study looks at two different methods for reducing feedback effects: implanting suspicion and the interestingly-titled "confidence prophylactic." Suspicion was used by telling the participants that the administrator was telling everyone they were right, regardless of their choice. The confidence prophylactic has participants make ratings about the circumstances of their initial viewing of the suspect (e.g. how good the lighting was, their distance, etc.) and their confidence in their identification. The idea behind this is that making eyewitnesses make judgments about how good their memory for the incident really is should help them to calibrate their confidence more accurately, and prevent the inflation seen after confirming feedback.

The second manipulation in this study is the time between the identification and the intervention. Experiments 1 and 2 looked at suspicion, with an immediate delay and experiment 1 and a week-long delay in 2. Experiment 3 examined the confidence prophylactic with and without a delay. Ultimately, they found that suspicion is effective in reducing confidence inflation regardless of when it's given, but that the prophylactic, living up to its name, is only effective if it's used at the time of the ID.

This paper is pretty representative of a lot of the eyewitness work done in psychology, and it raises some possible issues. For instance, most studies focus on reducing false positives: identifying a suspect who isn't the perpetrator. For this reason they use target-absent lineups, where any identification made is sure to be wrong. Are there any advantages to this procedure over a target-present lineup? And is this approach to research better than focusing on minimizing false negatives: failing to identify a perpetrator? Furthermore, how practical is the suspicion intervention? It might not be practicable, and certainly wouldn't be well-received in the precinct, to tell every witness that the police officer who just showed her the suspects might have been lying to her.

Friday, October 19, 2007

First Article: Moffitt

Moffitt, T. E. (1993). Adolescence-limited and life-course-persistent antisocial behavior: A developmental taxonomy Psychological Review, 100 (4), 674-701

Remember: the article itself is on Blackboard! Check under "Course Materials -> Journal Club Articles."

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchOkay, this one's pretty hefty, but it's good. Terrie Moffitt develops her idea that there are two very distinct origins of criminal and delinquent behavior: one which is based on abnormal neurobiological pathology combined with exposure to environmental stressors, and one which is based on social adaptation. She argues that these two different origins manifest in very different behavior patterns, affecting the nature of the antisocial behavior, the persistence of the behavior over the life course, and the purpose of the behavior.

Echoing what Dr. Geiselman said in class, most crimes are committed by (male) offenders between the ages of 12 and 25 (note the dramatic spike in the graph on the second page). Furthermore, the number of crimes is fueled by a dramatic increase in the number of offenders, not just in the number of crimes each offender performs. Yet around age 18, this increase stops. For all practical purposes, no one starts a life of crime after the age of 18, unless there are extreme circumstances, such as losing a job and house.

So there's a steady increase in the incidence of antisocial behavior (as well as crimes) starting in early adolescence, and a tapering off in late adolescence. But this does not affect everyone equally: there seems to be about 5% of men, found in samples across the globe, who continue to offend into their 30s, their 40s, their 50s, as long as they are capable of it. What's more, it seems that they start earlier, too. They're the ones who are likely to be guilty of torturing cats or setting fires at 7, and then battering spouses and driving drunk at 40. Is there something fundamentally different between these offenders and everyone else?

Moffitt argues that there is. Her hypothesis is that this 5% have certain risk factors that, when expressed in the wrong environments, lead to stable and persistent patterns of antisocial behavior. Brain insults, whether genetic, prenatal, or postnatal; poor parenting, sometimes compounded by generational patterns of neglect or abuse; the nature of the reactions to a child's early antisocial behaviors; environments that maintain, reinforce, and strengthen negative behavior patterns. Dr. Geiselman mentioned the highly heritable nature of criminality: adopted children will generally resemble their biological parents more than their adoptive parents in terms of antisocial behaviors. There are many mechanisms by which this might occur - there is no single "antisociality gene" - but factors such as low arousal levels and difficult temperaments can set up interactions with caregivers and the environment that amplify inherent tendencies. Just because someone is raised in a different environment does not mean that they won't encounter the same reactions and biases.

On the other hand, there are also, Moffitt argues, people who only display antisocial behavior over a limited time period, namely adolescence. And it's a lot of people: Moffitt says 1/3 are arrested over their lifetimes for serious offenses, Geiselman said about 50% have been imprisoned at some time. In adolescence, it seems that antisocial behavior is more the norm than the exception. So are all these people psychopaths? Most go on to have clean records after they become adults, so it can't be some natural criminal disposition. Instead, this type of antisociality seems to rely on a number of factors.

  • Developmentally, their frontal lobes are still maturing. The frontal lobe is responsible for much of the voluntary control we have over our behavior. Whenever we have to plan something or weigh the consequences of an action we rely on our frontal lobes. Phineas Gage, the classic frontal lobe example, was a reliable, productive railway worker until he got a steel bar driven through his eye socket and out the top of his head. While he miraculously survived, it destroyed much of his frontal lobe, after which he started gambling, abusing his girlfriend, mouthing off, and showing up late to work. It's remarkable what a faulty frontal lobe can do.
  • Biologically, they're getting bombarded by hormones such as testosterone, which, while it may not be directly linked to criminality, has associations with aggression, emotion perception, and sex drive. Plus, they're also simply getting bigger, with all that that entails: they can beat up more people, break into houses, drive, etc.
  • Socially, they're learning new behaviors. Adolescents have access to a world of new stimuli: drugs, sex, violence. They may have seen these on TV before, but now they're at a point where it becomes possible to actually try them out. These types of behaviors are often reinforced by peers, which means that there's even more of an incentive to try them.
  • Culturally, they're increasingly adrift. Figure 4 shows that there has been similar trends in age and criminal behavior over the years, but after the industrial period of the early 20th century, the level of adolescent crime has increased steadily. Moffitt attributes this to the growing gulf between childhood and adulthood that adolescents become trapped in: too old for this, not old enough for that. Adolescents are now in school longer and delay marriage more than in the past, but at the same time they're sexually maturing earlier. If they want to assume adult roles, they sometimes have to force them by challenging adult rules. It's at this point that the persistent adolescents, the ones who have been getting in trouble for years already, become a major influence as the "cool kids," but cruelly they're soon passed on as being weird and dangerous.
When antisocial behaviors are instrumental and influenced by biological and social changes that have the likelihood of stabilizing, it's easy for them to be outgrown. After a person gets a regular job and turns 21, he doesn't have to steal alcohol with his friends. This shift in motivation is what accounts for the rapid decline in offending behavior.

There are some problems with and alternatives to Moffitt's theory, which she touches on at the end. For example, Zimbardo has suggested that, given the right environmental conditions, anyone can be turned to criminal acts; fortunately, anyone can be influenced to perform heroic acts, as well. We'll go more into his research later, but for now, let's open it up: what do you think? Is this proveable? Is it useful? Does it really change anything if it were true? Are there alternate explanations for what she's found, considering there are no actual experiments in this study?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Welcome to Psych 187 Journal Club!

Okay, the first rule of journal club: read the article. And comment about it.

That's pretty much all the rules. I'll post a new article on Blackboard every Friday (I'll also try to link to an online version, which should be available if you're connecting on campus), so make sure to check back. I'll try to pick articles that are relevant to what we're doing in class, but sometimes they might be pretty tangential. Some things are just too good to pass up.

I hope this format works out for everyone. This is the first time I've attempted something like this, so if you've got any suggestions or criticisms, or any ideas for future articles, please send me an email.

How to comment: Just hit the "comments" link just below here. You can sign in if you like, but I've opened it up so you don't have to. It would be nice, to keep track of who says what, though.