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Editorial: Social psychological process and effects on the law

Colleen m. berryessa.

1 School of Criminal Justice, Rutgers University, Newark, NJ, United States

Clare S. Allely

2 School of Health and Society, University of Salford, Manchester, United Kingdom

Melissa de Vel-Palumbo

3 College of Business, Government and Law, Flinders University, Adelaide, SA, Australia

Yael Granot

4 Department of Psychology, Smith College, Northampton, MA, United States

Studying social psychological processes entails disentangling how people perceive, interact in, and react to our social world. This framework has been increasingly applied to studying law, with growing interest in the ways in which social contexts intersect with legal institutions and decision-making. Although the law may be viewed as insulated from social contexts, it is in fact ever-changing and shaped over time by society. Work at this intersection offers insights into how social psychology can impact the law, but also informs the law about the ways in which the public engages with and perceives legal principles, practices, and proceedings.

Although research at this intersection has begun to grow in recent years, many areas of empirical and theoretical work in this area continue to be under-studied, particularly across different countries and legal systems, those using more interdisciplinary frameworks in the study of these relationships, and in considering broader understandings and applications of social psychological processes to studying the law.

The 13 papers included in this Research Topic approach varied aspects of social cognition and its relationship to legal processes, providing important guidance on how we might explore these questions in future international work across different jurisdictions and countries. We are thrilled that researchers represented in this international collection hail from Australia, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the United States.

Grosfeld et al. survey members of the European Union (EU), finding that value alignment, particularly in relation to binding values, plays a significant role in affecting the public's views on the perceived legitimacy of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) and the EU more broadly.

Younan and Martire present two experimental studies to U.S. participants on the effects of expert likeability. They find that likeability may influence judgments on experts' persuasiveness and testimony quality, but may not necessarily affect support for particular sentencing outcomes.

Kurinec and Weaver also use two online experiments to show that the speech stereotypicality of Black Americans may activate racial stereotypes and racial phenotype bias, which influence suspect descriptions and eyewitness identifications.

Albrecht and Nadler test how the composition of crime news articles contributes to reader perceptions of moral blameworthiness and corresponding punishment attributions of vehicular homicide offenders. This study suggests that lay support for more severe punishment is affected by participants' characteristics, particularly political affiliation, when the immigration status of a suspect is provided and uncovers how differential reporting on suspects' personal characteristics may affect public views on blameworthiness.

Shang et al. present a study that measures types of social behavior, such as empathy, perspective-taking, and self-control, in Chinese adolescents in order to further work on whether age should continue to be the primary attribute by which to judge a juvenile's criminal responsibility. Their findings support the notion that legal systems may want to consider juvenile responsibility in terms of the social and interpersonal maturity and decision-making, rather than solely in terms of age.

Pettersson et al. study Swedish police officers and their ability to conduct investigative interviews with intoxicated witnesses, primarily looking at how police decision-making and perceptions of witness credibility may be biased by pre-existing social norms. This study adds to the existing literature in the field by showing that breath alcohol concentration far lower than the legal maximum still significantly affected officers' views on witness credibility.

Watamura et al. from Japan, develop a ratio measure to see how people weigh and justify different punishment philosophies when considering sentences for child abuse cases. Results show that ratio justifications differ across cases involving either severe or moderate abuse, with both retribution and utilitarian justification considered in the sentencing decisions of such cases.

Ansems et al. study Dutch criminal court hearings involving defendants with non-Western backgrounds to examine how prior discrimination and outcome judgments might interfere with the effects of procedural justice. Their findings help to illuminate the importance of promoting procedural justice in Dutch courts as a way to decrease social costs associated with continued justice system involvement.

Guan and Lo present a systematic review on drug offending within a certainty–severity framework of punishment, covering a wide body of literature on the importance of exposing certain types of information on punishment as a way to deter drug offending. Main themes identified in this literature focus on restrictive deterrence strategies, particularly surrounding pre-arrest, deterrability, and perceptions of risk, which suggest expanding future work on after-arrest strategies and across different types of drug offenders.

Ewanation and Maeder use an online experiment of U.S. participants to study the effects of a defendant's race and the presence or absence of expert testimony on jurors' perceptions of recanted confessions. Results support a “watchdog hypothesis” as White mock-jurors were found to be more receptive to legally relevant evidence when a defendant was identified as Black.

Angioletti et al. using common moral dilemmas from psychology research, demonstrate how individual, situational, contextual, and internal factors may influence the moral decision-making of lawyers in Italy. Results show that lawyers' internal states (e.g., interoceptive ability) may influence their fairness in decision-making during trial.

Saad et al. in an experimental study of New Jersey parole officers, find that officers' implicit social cognition may influence their behaviors toward and empathy for those whom they supervise. Findings may help to improve therapeutic and supervision relationships between officers and their clients.

Camplá et al. assess informal reasoning and biases that may affect the decision-making of Chilean legal actors in rape cases. Results find that these actors commonly overestimate probabilities of false or unfounded allegations and myths about sexual offending, and show attributional biases toward victims.

Ultimately, this paper collection represents an expansive and comprehensive account of international research on widespread ways in which law and social psychology interact. These issues are not only important to common legal practices, such as eyewitness identification, interviewing, or trial proceedings, and how they may be influenced by discrimination, bias, and other social processes, but also when considering how social psychological processes could influence larger philosophical questions on why we punish, why we use and support various legal practices, and the design and evaluation of legal rules. Thus, interactive relationships between law and social psychology should be viewed as “two-way streets” that will continue to shape criminal-legal outcomes across the globe moving forward.

Author contributions

All authors recognize CB leadership and substantial and direct contribution to this publication. All authors intellectually contributed to this work and approved it for publication.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher's note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.


We would like to thank the authors for their contributions, as well as Frontiers for providing the opportunity to solicit and publish these papers.

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The Oxford Handbook of Psychology and Law

The Oxford Handbook of Psychology and Law

The Oxford Handbook of Psychology and Law

David DeMatteo, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and the Thomas R. Kline School of Law, Drexel University R. Kline School of Law, Drexel University

Kyle C. Scherr, Department of Psychology, Central Michigan University

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The field of psychology–law is extremely broad, encompassing a strikingly large range of topic areas in both applied psychology and experimental psychology. Despite the continued and rapid growth of the field, there is no current and comprehensive resource that provides coverage of the major topic areas in the psychology–law field. The Oxford Handbook of Psychology and Law is an up-to-date, scholarly, and comprehensive volume that provides broad coverage of psychology–law topics. The field of psychology–law can be broadly divided into applied and experimental domains. Whereas applied specialties in psychology, such as clinical, counseling, neuropsychology, and school, are typically grounded in the scientist-practitioner model that emphasizes both research and the provision of clinical services (e.g., assessment, therapy), experimental psychology focuses almost exclusively on conducting empirical research grounded in theories from areas such as cognitive, developmental, and social psychology. Importantly, both applied and experimental psychologists have made meaningful contributions to the psychology–law field, and each of these domains of the psychology–law field includes a range of well-developed topic areas with robust empirical support. This book provides comprehensive coverage of applied and experimental topic areas, with chapters written by a diverse group of well-established psychology–law scholars and emerging future leaders.

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Psychology and Law by Kirk Heilbrun , Edie Greene LAST REVIEWED: 02 December 2016 LAST MODIFIED: 30 October 2019 DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0100

The field of psychology and law involves the application of scientific, clinical, and policy aspects of psychology to issues that arise in the legal system. Diverse perspectives are encompassed within psychology and law, including most of the major subdivisions in psychology (e.g., cognitive, developmental, industrial/organizational, and clinical). So, for example, cognitive psychologists may examine the reliability of eyewitness memory; developmental psychologists may assess the impact of maltreatment and abuse on social and cognitive development; industrial/organizational psychologists may investigate how workplace conditions contribute to the incidence of sexual harassment; and clinical forensic psychologists may provide assessment and treatment services to courts and attorneys, law enforcement agencies, or offenders in correctional settings or under court supervision. In each of these instances, psychologists use research and/or treatment protocols relevant to their specialization to address specific questions that emerge in the law. This article is organized around the intersection of those traditional subdivisions of psychology and the law. The field of psychology and law values contributions from professionals in a variety of different settings including university and research organizations, clinical practice, law enforcement agencies, correctional institutions, and other governmental and nonprofit agencies. It also values the contributions of professionals from across the globe, and associations devoted to psychology and law now exist in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Several specialized journals and book series are devoted exclusively to psycholegal matters. Undergraduate courses in psychology and law are increasingly common on college and university campuses. Various training programs prepare graduate and postgraduate students to address mental health issues in a variety of legal settings and to become the next generation of researchers, scholars, and practitioners. The American Board of Forensic Psychology and comparable organizations in other countries credential psychologists who specialize in clinical forensic issues, and an updated set of ethical guidelines has been developed specifically for their use. Psychologists have been involved in appellate court decisions by testifying in hearings and by making their research findings and policy analyses available to judges through amicus briefs submitted to the US Supreme Court and to lower courts.

Psychology and law is a diverse field, drawing on contributions from clinical practitioners, academic researchers in various subfields of psychology and criminal justice, policy analysts, and educators. As such, there have been relatively few attempts—other than the works noted under Textbooks —to bring these varied interests and perspectives together into a comprehensive resource. Cutler 2008 is one exception. A two-volume encyclopedia with four hundred entries, it serves as an invaluable compendium and reference work and would be useful to students, academics, practitioners, lawyers, judges, and the interested general public. More recently, the series Advances in Psychology and Law has brought together a diverse array of scholars to explore new research developments and policy implications, with Miller and Bornstein 2016 being the first volume in the series. Another recent volume, Brewer and Douglass 2019 , provides chapters on a wide variety of topics in psychology and law. The modern history of the field is told through the experiences of a small group of clinicians, legal scholars, and psychological scientists whose narratives are compiled in Grisso and Brodsky 2018 .

Brewer, N., and A. Douglass, eds. 2019. Psychological science and the law . New York: Guilford.

This volume focuses on the application of psychological science research findings and theories to the criminal justice system. In addition to topics such as eyewitness memory, plea bargaining, and jury decision making addressed in this article, it includes chapters by Charman on cognitive bias in legal decision making, Hope and Gabbert on interviewing witnesses and victims, Zaragoza on false memory, Madon on expert testimony, and Steblay on translating psychological science into policy and practice.

Cutler, B. L., ed. 2008. Encyclopedia of psychology and law . Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Encyclopedia entries range from one thousand to three thousand words and are arranged in alphabetical order. Entries are also listed within useful headings such as “Criminal Competencies,” “Education and Professional Development,” “Psychological and Forensic Assessment Instruments,” and “Trial Process.” Each entry lists suggestions for further reading, and both volumes have comprehensive indexes.

Grisso, T., and S. L. Brodsky, eds. 2018. The roots of modern psychology and law: A narrative history . New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

This book provides firsthand accounts by scholars and clinicians of their early contributions to the field of psychology and law in the decade following the founding of the American Psychology-Law Society in 1969. The authors are considered by many to be among the founders of the field who charted the course for research and clinical practice for subsequent decades.

Miller, M., and B. H. Bornstein. 2016. Advances in psychology and law . Vol. 1. New York: Springer.

DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-29406-3

The inaugural volume in the series includes chapters on sex offender policy and prevention, children’s participation in legal proceedings, an evaluation of show ups, the psychology of jury instructions, and structured risk assessment and legal decision making. Subsequent volumes (e.g., Volume 3 [2018]) cover topics such as pretrial publicity effects on jurors and juries, restorative justice, bias in forensic mental health judgements, and research on understanding and appreciation of Miranda warnings.

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Law and psychology must think critically about effect sizes

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  • Published: 12 January 2023
  • Volume 3 , article number  3 , ( 2023 )

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This comment examines a threat to the development of law and psychology as a “public science” (i.e., one that goes beyond theory to address important issues in society), a failure to think critically about effect sizes. Effect sizes estimate the strength or magnitude of the relationship between variables and therefore can help decision makers understand whether scientific results are relevant to some legal or policy outcome. Accordingly, I suggest that those conducting and reporting law and psychology research should: (1) justify why observed effect sizes are meaningful and report them candidly and transparently, (2) scrutinize effect sizes to determine if they are plausible, and (3) plan studies such that they fit with the researchers’ inferential goals. I explore these points by way of case studies on influential law and psychology studies, such as implicit bias in the courtroom. I end with suggestions for implementing my recommendations, including a metaresearch agenda for law and psychology.

Avoid common mistakes on your manuscript.

Discussions about psychology’s role as a science that aims to address “pressing issues in society” (i.e., public psychology, [ 1 ]; see also [ 2 ]) have taken on newfound poignance in recent years. Beyond the importance of issues such as the government’s behavioral science response to the COVID-19 pandemic [ 3 ], many conversations revolve around psychology’s ongoing “credibility revolution” [ 2 , 4 ]. That revolution involves the field studying its own processes (i.e., metaresearch) and adopting more rigorous and transparent methods, such as prospective registration (i.e., preregistration) [ 5 ] and open data and code [ 6 , 7 ]. These developments are especially pressing in law and psychology, Footnote 1 a subfield of psychology that regularly informs criminal justice outcomes and public policy [ 9 ]. For instance, law and psychology research is used to inform guidelines for taking witness statements and eyewitness identifications. Yet, sustained conversations about developing a public law and psychology appear to be rare [ 10 , 11 , 12 , 13 , 14 ] and have largely not focused on effect sizes (but see, [ 13 , 14 ]).

In this comment, I will examine a key methodological threat to the development of a public law and psychology—a failure to think critically about effect sizes. That is, it appears to not yet be common practice in law and psychology for researchers to (1) provide empirical or at least verifiable support for why effect sizes might matter, (2) to scrutinize effect sizes that are incredibly large, and (3) to plan studies [ 15 ] such that they are informative of whether a meaningful effect exists (i.e., practical relevance, see [ 13 , 14 ]). I analyze these issues with respect to influential studies in law and psychology, and then provide discipline specific guidance for moving forward.

1 Justify the meaningfulness of effect sizes

As an applied field, law and psychology’s remit goes beyond exploring the theoretical relations between psychological constructs and behavior, to building knowledge about whether some observed relationship matters (see [ 13 , 14 ]). For example, some intervention aimed at improving a legal outcome might be consistently observable and of theoretical interest. However, it may possess an effect size so small that it is unlikely to be worth the time and cost in implementing it.

Consider, for example, the widely discussed issue of implicit bias (i.e., automatic associations between some social group and an evaluation, such as associating a group with violence or aggression) affecting legal outcomes [ 16 , 17 ]. In a recent article written for judges, Kang [ 18 ] summarized meta-analyses finding a generally small relationship (“The range of r values goes from 0.24 down to 0.10”, [ 18 ]) between implicit bias measures and discriminatory behavior. He did not, however, acknowledge the overstatement of effect sizes in small, non-preregistered studies (such studies provide effect sizes twice as large as compared to large, preregistered replications, see [ 19 , 20 ]) that would make the estimates he provided even smaller with less obvious implications for the legal system.

Kang also laid out an unqualified case for effect size accumulation whereby a lawyer subject to implicit bias would be less likely to make it to partner over the course of their career, even if there was just 1% increased chance of attrition due to implicit bias at any given time point: “After eight years (or 96 cuts), it turns out that Greg's partnership chance is 38.1% (0.99^96 = 0.381). Brandie’s is only 14.4% (0.98^96 = 0.144)” [ 18 ]. In other words, he posits that these small psychological effects build across time and people [ 21 , 22 ] such that even if it they are small on an individual level, their effects can be larger on a macro level.

This legal-scientific communication about effect sizes—written for a judicial audience—could be improved in many ways. As Lewis and Wai ( 2 , p. 1246) note, scientific communication requires humility and transparency: “scientific communication should […] make clear to your audience both what you know (and do not know), and how you know it.” To follow Lewis and Wai’s prescription, psychologists communicating with legal actors about topics such as implicit bias should acknowledge evidence that reported effect sizes tend to be inflated. In Lewis and Wai’s terms, this makes clear what is still unknown (precise effect size estimates) and why (bias in research and reporting). Similarly, statements that effect sizes accumulate should acknowledge that there is no empirical research supporting this in many contexts [ 23 ] and provide verifiable lines of reasoning explaining why they may or may not accumulate [ 24 ]. Communication in this style gives life to more general calls for legal psychologists to take caution when communicating with nonscientists [ 11 ]. Footnote 2

2 Scrutinize incredibly large effect sizes

Just as small effect sizes raise questions that should be addressed, so do incredibly large effects. A law and psychology example of an incredibly large effect can be found in an influential study of parole decisions made by Israeli judges [ 25 , 26 ], cited 1,653 times as of this writing. Footnote 3 This study found that favorable parole decisions dropped from about 65% earlier in the day to nearly 0% just before lunch and then returned to 65% after lunch (and other meal breaks). This is a very large effect (Cohen’s d  = 2). In subsequent commentaries, Lakens [ 27 , 28 ] contextualized this effect against others in psychology and against its real-world plausibility, concluding it was incredible: “There are hardly any effects in psychology this large, let alone effects of mood or rest on decision making. If mental depletion actually has such a huge real-life impact, society would basically fall into complete chaos just before lunch break every day” [ 28 ].

Lakens’ critique has found support in other analyses [ 29 , 30 , 31 ]. For instance, simulations find that scheduling shorter matters before lunch breaks accounts for the hungriness effect [ 30 ]. Similarly, through interviewing court staff from the original study, Weinshall-Margel and Shapard [ 31 ] found several variables unaccounted for in the original analyses, such as unrepresented parties being more likely to be heard in sessions before breaks. The original authors [ 25 ] reanalyzed their data and found that the factors uncovered by Weinshall-Margel and Shapard [ 31 ] did not fully explain the “hungriness” effect, but they did not report whether controlling those variables reduced the size of the effect.

For our purposes, the hungry judges study and its fallout underscore the importance of critically appraising effect sizes and transparently discussing and reporting them. Indeed, as we saw from Lakens’ work, simply considering whether the hungry judge effect could plausibly be larger than cognate effects studied in the lab raised important questions casting doubt on the study’s conclusions. Still, many publications continue to cite the original hungry judge study uncritically (see e.g., [ 32 , 33 , 34 ]). As a result, it is important that authors finding effects that seem too big to be true highlight this in discussion sections so that readers can assign the proper weight to them. This is especially important in applied research, a context in which readers are often legal actors who may accept psychological findings at face value. And, at a minimum, researchers should report effect sizes and make their data available when possible. As we saw with the hungry judges study, the authors did not report the degree to which the effect sizes changed when more controls were introduced [ 29 ]—this is essential information for legal decision makers.

3 Justify sample sizes to perform publicly meaningful studies

Finally, thinking critically about effect sizes is important to ensuring that law and psychology studies can inform the important public policy questions they seek to address. One example of the unfortunate consequences that flow from a failure to plan a study to find a meaningful effect size can be found in a study commissioned by Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (“RCIRCSA”) [ 35 , 36 ]. That study sought to determine whether there was a biasing effect of “joining” trials such that juries hear and decide about allegations of sexual assault against multiple complainants purported to be committed by the accused [ 36 ]. If joining trials does not increase bias, then that is a good reason to reform the rules that allow for joined trials. And indeed, the authors found no statistically significant effect [ 36 ]. This null effect has informed a changed in evidence law in one large Australian state [ 37 ].

Closer attention to effect sizes would have made the RCIRCSA more useful. Specifically, the mere absence of a statistically significant effect tells us little about whether a publicly meaningful effect exists. Indeed, the authors reported that they powered the study to find an effect size “determined based on the magnitude of effects observed in past studies” [ 36 ] and did not report those calculations. Beyond this lack of transparency, there are two problems with powering the RCIRCA study to find previously reported effects. First, as we saw above, effect sizes in the literature are often overstated and so it is likely the RCIRCSA study was underpowered to find the effect they thought they were seeking. But, more importantly, the sample size justification did not fit with the RCIRCSA’s inferential goal. Powering a study to find an effect size estimated from previous research is a justification based on the “expected effect size” [ 38 ]. In other words, the researchers are powering a study to find an effect of the size that research and theory predicts. However, that justification is only weakly (or perhaps not at all) related to the goal of determining whether it is safe to join trials.

The preferable strategy would have been for the experimenters to meet with the RCIRCSA’s legal stakeholders to determine the smallest effect size that they consider to be practically important. For example, are courts and criminal justice practitioners willing to tolerate 5 or 10% more convictions in joint trials (all else equal) to improve the efficiency of justice system and other competing policy demands? Determining this—the smallest effect size of interest—is a challenge. In one area of legal psychology, false memory research, respondents to a survey could not agree on the smallest effect size of interest and many conflated it with statistical significance [ 15 ]. But the task is easier and worth undertaking in publicly commissioned research with a clear goal of informing a specific change in law (versus studying false memories generally).

4 Towards a public law and psychology

These challenges with effect sizes in law and psychology help illuminate a path forward for both those who communicate with legal stakeholders and those who conduct research. Starting with communication, individuals and institutions addressing legal actors must not assume that those actors will be aware of the uncertainties surrounding effect size estimates (see e.g., [ 11 ]). That is, we cannot assume that judges, policymakers, and the like possess the scientific knowhow to do anything more than take a reported effect size at face value. Effect size inflation [ 19 , 20 ], and the numerous reasons that effect sizes may not accumulate in the wild [ 24 ] are not obviously common knowledge. While it is undeniably important to inform legal actors that an effect may be occurring, to assign a size to it without alerting them about the uncertainty surrounding that size is dangerous.

Researchers—when conducting research—also have an important role to play. Perhaps most fundamentally, law and psychology researchers must transparently report their effect sizes, their sample size justifications (which often hinge on an effect size), and any calculations underlying that work [ 38 ]. As we saw [ 29 ], such reporting does not always occur, yet is important in evaluating the legal and policy implications of psychological research. Similarly, researchers should candidly report both how effect sizes may or may not accumulate in the across time and people. By way of analogy, psychological researchers have prescribed [ 39 ] constraints on generality statements for research, which may be especially useful for lay readers to understand why a study may not apply to a context or population. The same level of candor and transparency should also be routine when presenting effect sizes in applied research.

Finally, law and psychology researchers should consider engaging in increased metaresearch—research on its own methods and processes [ 40 ]. This work is underway, including the previously discussed survey of false memory researchers about the smallest effect size of interest in their work [ 15 ] and scrutiny of the hungry judges study finding several reasons its findings were likely overstated (e.g., [ 29 ]). However, much more is needed and can generally follow the discussion above. For instance, large scale preregistered replication projects of foundational studies can help provide more precise estimates of effect sizes and can be used as a basis to begin to estimate heterogeneity of effects across populations and contexts [ 12 , 41 ]. This work can help replace more impressionistic metaresearch in law and psychology which often relies on subjective judgments of researchers about what work has reached “general acceptance” (see e.g., [ 42 ]). It can also supplement this comment, which has relied on case studies rather than a systematic survey of the literature. And, to capitalize on these efforts [ 40 ], researchers should conduct regular audits (in psychology generally, see e.g., [ 43 ]) of reporting practices in law and psychology to see if reform efforts are working—that is, if researchers and practitioners actually begin to report effect sizes more transparently and more cautiously.

Data availability

There are no data or code related to this Comment.

This article will collapse several fields in which psychology informs law and policy into the term “law and psychology”. See Neal [ 8 ] for a more careful dissection of the various subfields encompassed by law and psychology.

A relevant quote from Ellsworth [ 11 ] is: “We have to recognize that research on social issues gets communicated to a much broader audience than basic research. We can assume that our colleagues will be skeptical about our claims in the discussion section and they’ll evaluate them in terms of what they read in the methods sections and the results that we actually got. People that are not scientists—legislators, judges, reporters, the public—are more likely to read only the introduction and discussion”.

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Chin, J.M. Law and psychology must think critically about effect sizes. Discov Psychol 3 , 3 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s44202-022-00062-2

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Psychology and Law: A Science to be Applied

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past behaviour. They must do so if they are to represent them appropriately when their clients are charged with a crime. So too must practicing psychologists look back at the behaviour of their clients, if they are to understand them and to devise suitable interventions. Lawyers can also look forward; contracts, a device also popular with psychologists when working with clients, are designed to shape behaviour in the future. So it has been argued that the implications of the alleged methodological differences, between law and psychology, have been exaggerated . They arise from the law when it is applied. However, it is as grievous an error to assume that law is limited to that which happens in practice (i.e. to the law in courts), as it would be to assume that psychology is an entirely academic discipline.

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50+ Topics of Psychology Research

How to Find Psychology Research Topics for Your Student Paper

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

law and psychology research papers

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law and psychology research papers

Are you searching for a great topic for your psychology paper ? Sometimes it seems like coming up with topics of psychology research is more challenging than the actual research and writing. Fortunately, there are plenty of great places to find inspiration and the following list contains just a few ideas to help get you started.

Finding a solid topic is one of the most important steps when writing any type of paper. It can be particularly important when you are writing a psychology research paper or essay. Psychology is such a broad topic, so you want to find a topic that allows you to adequately cover the subject without becoming overwhelmed with information.

In some cases, such as in a general psychology class, you might have the option to select any topic from within psychology's broad reach. Other instances, such as in an  abnormal psychology  course, might require you to write your paper on a specific subject such as a psychological disorder.

As you begin your search for a topic for your psychology paper, it is first important to consider the guidelines established by your instructor.

Topics of Psychology Research Within Specific Branches

The key to selecting a good topic for your psychology paper is to select something that is narrow enough to allow you to really focus on the subject, but not so narrow that it is difficult to find sources or information to write about.

One approach is to narrow your focus down to a subject within a specific branch of psychology. For example, you might start by deciding that you want to write a paper on some sort of social psychology topic. Next, you might narrow your focus down to how persuasion can be used to influence behavior.

Other social psychology topics you might consider include:

  • Prejudice and discrimination (i.e., homophobia, sexism, racism)
  • Social cognition
  • Person perception
  • Social control and cults
  • Persuasion , propaganda, and marketing
  • Attraction, romance, and love
  • Nonverbal communication
  • Prosocial behavior

Psychology Research Topics Involving a Disorder or Type of Therapy

Exploring a psychological disorder or a specific treatment modality can also be a good topic for a psychology paper. Some potential abnormal psychology topics include specific psychological disorders or particular treatment modalities, including:

  • Eating disorders
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Seasonal affective disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Profile a  type of therapy  (i.e., cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, psychoanalytic therapy)

Topics of Psychology Research Related to Human Cognition

Some of the possible topics you might explore in this area include thinking, language, intelligence, and decision-making. Other ideas might include:

  • False memories
  • Speech disorders
  • Problem-solving

Topics of Psychology Research Related to Human Development

In this area, you might opt to focus on issues pertinent to  early childhood  such as language development, social learning, or childhood attachment or you might instead opt to concentrate on issues that affect older adults such as dementia or Alzheimer's disease.

Some other topics you might consider include:

  • Language acquisition
  • Media violence and children
  • Learning disabilities
  • Gender roles
  • Child abuse
  • Prenatal development
  • Parenting styles
  • Aspects of the aging process

Do a Critique of Publications Involving Psychology Research Topics

One option is to consider writing a critique paper of a published psychology book or academic journal article. For example, you might write a critical analysis of Sigmund Freud's Interpretation of Dreams or you might evaluate a more recent book such as Philip Zimbardo's  The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil .

Professional and academic journals are also great places to find materials for a critique paper. Browse through the collection at your university library to find titles devoted to the subject that you are most interested in, then look through recent articles until you find one that grabs your attention.

Topics of Psychology Research Related to Famous Experiments

There have been many fascinating and groundbreaking experiments throughout the history of psychology, providing ample material for students looking for an interesting term paper topic. In your paper, you might choose to summarize the experiment, analyze the ethics of the research, or evaluate the implications of the study. Possible experiments that you might consider include:

  • The Milgram Obedience Experiment
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment
  • The Little Albert Experiment
  • Pavlov's Conditioning Experiments
  • The Asch Conformity Experiment
  • Harlow's Rhesus Monkey Experiments

Topics of Psychology Research About Historical Figures

One of the simplest ways to find a great topic is to choose an interesting person in the  history of psychology  and write a paper about them. Your paper might focus on many different elements of the individual's life, such as their biography, professional history, theories, or influence on psychology.

While this type of paper may be historical in nature, there is no need for this assignment to be dry or boring. Psychology is full of fascinating figures rife with intriguing stories and anecdotes. Consider such famous individuals as Sigmund Freud, B.F. Skinner, Harry Harlow, or one of the many other  eminent psychologists .

Psychology Research Topics About a Specific Career

​Another possible topic, depending on the course in which you are enrolled, is to write about specific career paths within the  field of psychology . This type of paper is especially appropriate if you are exploring different subtopics or considering which area interests you the most.

In your paper, you might opt to explore the typical duties of a psychologist, how much people working in these fields typically earn, and the different employment options that are available.

Topics of Psychology Research Involving Case Studies

One potentially interesting idea is to write a  psychology case study  of a particular individual or group of people. In this type of paper, you will provide an in-depth analysis of your subject, including a thorough biography.

Generally, you will also assess the person, often using a major psychological theory such as  Piaget's stages of cognitive development  or  Erikson's eight-stage theory of human development . It is also important to note that your paper doesn't necessarily have to be about someone you know personally.

In fact, many professors encourage students to write case studies on historical figures or fictional characters from books, television programs, or films.

Psychology Research Topics Involving Literature Reviews

Another possibility that would work well for a number of psychology courses is to do a literature review of a specific topic within psychology. A literature review involves finding a variety of sources on a particular subject, then summarizing and reporting on what these sources have to say about the topic.

Literature reviews are generally found in the  introduction  of journal articles and other  psychology papers , but this type of analysis also works well for a full-scale psychology term paper.

Topics of Psychology Research Based on Your Own Study or Experiment

Many psychology courses require students to design an actual psychological study or perform some type of experiment. In some cases, students simply devise the study and then imagine the possible results that might occur. In other situations, you may actually have the opportunity to collect data, analyze your findings, and write up your results.

Finding a topic for your study can be difficult, but there are plenty of great ways to come up with intriguing ideas. Start by considering your own interests as well as subjects you have studied in the past.

Online sources, newspaper articles, books , journal articles, and even your own class textbook are all great places to start searching for topics for your experiments and psychology term papers. Before you begin, learn more about  how to conduct a psychology experiment .

A Word From Verywell

After looking at this brief list of possible topics for psychology papers, it is easy to see that psychology is a very broad and diverse subject. While this variety makes it possible to find a topic that really catches your interest, it can sometimes make it very difficult for some students to select a good topic.

If you are still stumped by your assignment, ask your instructor for suggestions and consider a few from this list for inspiration.

  • Hockenbury, SE & Nolan, SA. Psychology. New York: Worth Publishers; 2014.
  • Santrock, JW. A Topical Approach to Lifespan Development. New York: McGraw-Hill Education; 2016.

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

  • Mental Health
  • Social Psychology
  • Cognitive Science
  • Psychopharmacology

New research delves into the unexplored psychology of Femcels

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A new study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior explored the psychology of involuntarily celibate women, or “femcels”, revealing their struggles with sexual frustration, a focus on personal rather than male grievances, and tendency toward non-violent means for empowerment.

“When I first heard the term ‘femcel,’ I was immediately interested and wanted to know more about their communities. When I began exploring their online subculture, I saw so many different directions that our research could take because this is such an understudied population,” said Hannah Rae Evans, a master’s graduate of the University of Alabama’s Criminology and Criminal Justice Program. Evans currently works as the Stepping Up Initiative Coordinator for Tuscaloosa County.

The term “incels,” referring to involuntarily celibate men has been linked to several violent acts and online misogynistic culture, capturing global attention. However, the narrative around “femcels” has been largely unexplored. Despite assumptions that women can readily access sexual and romantic opportunities, many express frustration over the lack of meaningful connections and sexual satisfaction, leading to the creation of online communities like The Pink Pill. In this work, Evans and Adam Lankford delved into the femcel phenomenon.

The researchers collected data from the five most subscribed subforums on ThePinkPill.co, an online femcel discussion website, capturing posts from May 2021 to May 2022. This process yielded a large dataset of 24,525 user posts across 3461 threads. The final sample for focused analysis comprised approximately 1200 posts identified through text search queries for the following terms: sexual, power, revenge, and frustration (and their stemmed versions, e.g., frustrated, frustrating). This study was designed to give voice to femcel experiences by relying on their language and expression.

“First, femcels struggled with numerous types of sexual frustration. All three major types of sexual frustration proposed in Dr. Lankford’s sexual frustration theory—unfulfilled desires to have sex, unavailable partners, and unsatisfying sexual activities—were found in femcel posts,” Evans told PsyPost.

This suggests there is a deep-rooted concern with the quality and availability of intimate relationships among this population.

“Another key finding is how much in-depth analysis and commentary we found from femcels. This is why we decided to include so many illustrative quotes within our findings and share what the femcels had to say about gender, societal expectations, beauty standards, power dynamics, and more.”

For example, when discussing women and power, the power of beauty was a common theme.  One user wrote “It’s not about just beauty from the objective point, it’s about what you gain with beauty. I want that. That power.”

Another wrote, “Stacys know that they are hot, and they know that this gives them power and money, so they want to maximize their power.”

Femcel discussions predominantly focused on women’s experiences, highlighting the emphasis on the female perspective within the femcel community.

What can we learn by studying this population? Evans said, “Although the femcel discussions in our study contained much less support for aggression and violence than what has been reported about male incels, some did express extreme views.”

“Further studying these populations could help us identify factors that may contribute to radicalization and could aid efforts to prevent escalation of harmful ideologies. Also, researchers can learn more about the mental health challenges associated with involuntary celibacy and sexual frustration. This would give us a better foundation for developing evidence-based support strategies tailored to the specific needs of these populations.”

“One of the most important things to note is that we examined only these femcels’ online statements and discussions and have no way of verifying their offline behavior,” the researcher explained.

“While some postings involved extreme rhetoric, we are not aware of any mass shootings or violence committed by someone who considered themselves a femcel or identified with the femcel community. Additionally, femcels are not ideologically homogeneous and the beliefs of the most extreme members are not indicative of the group as a whole.”

Are there questions that still need answers? Evans responded, “There is still much to learn about the femcel community, their experiences, and the broader societal dynamics that shape their perspectives. For example, further research could investigate femcels’ struggles with social isolation, self-esteem issues, and interpersonal skills. We’d also like to do a direct comparison study of femcels and male incels.”

The study, “ Femcel Discussions of Sex, Frustration, Power, and Revenge ”, was authored by Hannah Rae Evans and Adam Lankford.

Women, particularly younger ones, experience more social media friendship jealousy than men

At the heart of friendships lies a concoction of emotions, where the warmth of companionship might sometimes be chilled by feelings of jealousy. Recent research published in Evolutionary Psychology delved into the study of this phenomenon, developing a novel measure to study social media friendship jealousy in particular.

A simple cognitive tendency has surprisingly profound implications for the spread of biased information

A study reveals that our brains better remember and connect information from people we like. Conducted by Lund University researchers, it shows how social preferences influence learning and memory integration, with implications for understanding social biases and polarization.

New research uncovers an intriguing link between narcissism and state-level health outcomes

A study spanning the U.S. reveals narcissism's link to health outcomes, showing states with higher narcissism levels have lower obesity and depression rates but more plastic surgery and less sleep.

New study unpacks the impact of TikTok and short video apps on adolescent well being

A study in Psychiatry Research found that adolescents addicted to short-video apps like TikTok experience worse mental health, academic issues, and family relationships compared to moderate or non-users. The research surveyed 1,346 Chinese teens, highlighting the need for further investigation across cultures.

Revisiting the science of attraction: Averageness is key to facial beauty, study finds

A global study on 1,550 faces found attractiveness is less about symmetry, more about averageness and distinctiveness. Faces closer to a population's average are seen as more attractive, challenging traditional beliefs on beauty standards.


Dopamine isn’t just a “feel good” chemical: new study reveals its role in reversal learning, writing by hand may increase brain connectivity more than typing on a keyboard, the startling impact of early life adversity revealed in new neuroscience research, ancient viruses emerge as unexpected heroes in vertebrate brain evolution, adhd is somewhat heritable, study finds, unraveling the ties between circadian rhythms and psychological wellbeing.

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Reproductive rights in America

Research at the heart of a federal case against the abortion pill has been retracted.

Selena Simmons-Duffin

Selena Simmons-Duffin

law and psychology research papers

The Supreme Court will hear the case against the abortion pill mifepristone on March 26. It's part of a two-drug regimen with misoprostol for abortions in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images hide caption

The Supreme Court will hear the case against the abortion pill mifepristone on March 26. It's part of a two-drug regimen with misoprostol for abortions in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.

A scientific paper that raised concerns about the safety of the abortion pill mifepristone was retracted by its publisher this week. The study was cited three times by a federal judge who ruled against mifepristone last spring. That case, which could limit access to mifepristone throughout the country, will soon be heard in the Supreme Court.

The now retracted study used Medicaid claims data to track E.R. visits by patients in the month after having an abortion. The study found a much higher rate of complications than similar studies that have examined abortion safety.

Sage, the publisher of the journal, retracted the study on Monday along with two other papers, explaining in a statement that "expert reviewers found that the studies demonstrate a lack of scientific rigor that invalidates or renders unreliable the authors' conclusions."

It also noted that most of the authors on the paper worked for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, the research arm of anti-abortion lobbying group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, and that one of the original peer reviewers had also worked for the Lozier Institute.

The Sage journal, Health Services Research and Managerial Epidemiology , published all three research articles, which are still available online along with the retraction notice. In an email to NPR, a spokesperson for Sage wrote that the process leading to the retractions "was thorough, fair, and careful."

The lead author on the paper, James Studnicki, fiercely defends his work. "Sage is targeting us because we have been successful for a long period of time," he says on a video posted online this week . He asserts that the retraction has "nothing to do with real science and has everything to do with a political assassination of science."

He says that because the study's findings have been cited in legal cases like the one challenging the abortion pill, "we have become visible – people are quoting us. And for that reason, we are dangerous, and for that reason, they want to cancel our work," Studnicki says in the video.

In an email to NPR, a spokesperson for the Charlotte Lozier Institute said that they "will be taking appropriate legal action."

Role in abortion pill legal case

Anti-abortion rights groups, including a group of doctors, sued the federal Food and Drug Administration in 2022 over the approval of mifepristone, which is part of a two-drug regimen used in most medication abortions. The pill has been on the market for over 20 years, and is used in more than half abortions nationally. The FDA stands by its research that finds adverse events from mifepristone are extremely rare.

Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, the district court judge who initially ruled on the case, pointed to the now-retracted study to support the idea that the anti-abortion rights physicians suing the FDA had the right to do so. "The associations' members have standing because they allege adverse events from chemical abortion drugs can overwhelm the medical system and place 'enormous pressure and stress' on doctors during emergencies and complications," he wrote in his decision, citing Studnicki. He ruled that mifepristone should be pulled from the market nationwide, although his decision never took effect.

law and psychology research papers

Matthew Kacsmaryk at his confirmation hearing for the federal bench in 2017. AP hide caption

Matthew Kacsmaryk at his confirmation hearing for the federal bench in 2017.

Kacsmaryk is a Trump appointee who was a vocal abortion opponent before becoming a federal judge.

"I don't think he would view the retraction as delegitimizing the research," says Mary Ziegler , a law professor and expert on the legal history of abortion at U.C. Davis. "There's been so much polarization about what the reality of abortion is on the right that I'm not sure how much a retraction would affect his reasoning."

Ziegler also doubts the retractions will alter much in the Supreme Court case, given its conservative majority. "We've already seen, when it comes to abortion, that the court has a propensity to look at the views of experts that support the results it wants," she says. The decision that overturned Roe v. Wade is an example, she says. "The majority [opinion] relied pretty much exclusively on scholars with some ties to pro-life activism and didn't really cite anybody else even or really even acknowledge that there was a majority scholarly position or even that there was meaningful disagreement on the subject."

In the mifepristone case, "there's a lot of supposition and speculation" in the argument about who has standing to sue, she explains. "There's a probability that people will take mifepristone and then there's a probability that they'll get complications and then there's a probability that they'll get treatment in the E.R. and then there's a probability that they'll encounter physicians with certain objections to mifepristone. So the question is, if this [retraction] knocks out one leg of the stool, does that somehow affect how the court is going to view standing? I imagine not."

It's impossible to know who will win the Supreme Court case, but Ziegler thinks that this retraction probably won't sway the outcome either way. "If the court is skeptical of standing because of all these aforementioned weaknesses, this is just more fuel to that fire," she says. "It's not as if this were an airtight case for standing and this was a potentially game-changing development."

Oral arguments for the case, Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. FDA , are scheduled for March 26 at the Supreme Court. A decision is expected by summer. Mifepristone remains available while the legal process continues.

  • Abortion policy
  • abortion pill
  • judge matthew kacsmaryk
  • mifepristone
  • retractions
  • Abortion rights
  • Supreme Court

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law and psychology research papers

The University of Tulsa acquires Fab Lab Tulsa

The University of Tulsa has announced the acquisition of Fab Lab Tulsa, which provides access to digital fabrication tools and resources throughout the community through membership and programming. The move is part of TU’s ongoing efforts to promote innovation and aligns with the university’s global reputation in engineering, computer science, and the creative arts. “We […]

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Unique organizational studies program offers expansive opportunities

At roughly 75 majors, organizational studies is one of the largest majors in The University of Tulsa’s Kendall College of Arts & Sciences. From social sciences, media, and arts to business administration, the program provides students a wide range of knowledge and skills, rather than limiting them to a single discipline. But as a so-called […]

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law and psychology research papers

From field work to the classroom, Grau mentors women in energy

Anne Grau has been involved in geology for three decades – working for energy leaders such as EOG Resources and Total Energies – and definitely knows what it’s like to be the only woman in the room. “Being a woman in the oil and gas industry often meant I was one woman in 200 at […]

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law and psychology research papers

TU Law celebrates alumna Sara Hill’s historic confirmation to federal bench

The University of Tulsa’s College of Law congratulates alumna Sara Hill (JD ’03) as she becomes the first Native American woman to serve as a federal judge in Oklahoma. This historic appointment marks a significant milestone in the state’s legal landscape. The U.S. Senate on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to confirm Hill, who fills a vacant […]

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New faculty member brings expertise and INSPIRE lab to Psychology Department

The University of Tulsa Department of Psychology has a wide variety of faculty-led research labs. From the Exposure, Relaxation & Rescripting Therapy for Chronic Nightmares study to the Psychophysiology Laboratory for Affective Neuroscience lab, TU offers students the opportunity to participate in ongoing research and even publish their findings. New to Kendall College of Arts […]

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law and psychology research papers

More than 60 years of James Joyce Quarterly

Legend has it that Thomas Staley, former provost of The University of Tulsa, founded the James Joyce Quarterly, fondly known as JJQ, in his garage. Or was it his kitchen table? That was more than 60 years ago, and since then the journal has become an internationally esteemed publication known for its publishing of critical […]

From the Dean’s Desk: College of Engineering & Computer Science, February 2024

Photo of Andreas A. Polycarpou

Dear colleagues, students, alumni, and friends,

I am humbled that, in just a few short months, this year has already brought many exciting opportunities to the College of Engineering & Computer Science, with more surely to follow.

TU was proud to announce the formalization of a new institutional partnership with King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals during my visit along with Vice Provost Vivian Wang. A key highlight of this partnership is the introduction of a student exchange and internship program. This initiative aims to strengthen the ties between the two institutions, promoting a collaborative spirit that transcends borders.

We also announced a new Master of Engineering degree in Energy Transition. This degree program will further propel TU in its long history as a pioneer in the energy sector. The principles learned in this degree can successfully be applied in energy transition.

None of this is made possible without your support.  I have witnessed the remarkable achievements of our students, faculty and staff, who have demonstrated excellence, innovation and resilience in their endeavors. I am proud to be associated with such a vibrant and diverse community that fosters such growth.

Andreas A. Polycarpou James Sorem Inaugural Dean

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