PSYC 277 – Psychology and the Law

This course will offer an introduction to the range of topics that are of concern both to psychologists and to members of the legal profession. We will investigate how psychologists may enter the legal arena as social scientists, consultants, and expert witnesses, as well as how the theory, data, and methods of the social sciences can enhance and contribute to our understanding of the judicial system. We will focus on what social psychology can offer the legal system in terms of its research and expertise with an examination of the state of the social science research on topics such as juries and decision making, eyewitness testimony, mental illness, the nature of voluntary confession, competency/insanity, child testimony, repressed memory, and sentencing guidelines. In addition, this course will look at the new and exciting ways legal scholars and psychologists/social scientists are now collaborating on research that looks at topics such as the role of education in prison, cultural definitions of responsibility, media accounts and social representations of crime and criminals, death penalty mitigation, and gender/race discrimination within the criminal justice system. This course will introduce students to this field, especially to the growing body of applied and theoretical work and resources available for study and review. Students will be encouraged to explore the connections between issues of social science and the law, translating legal issues into social scientific research questions that can then be examined more closely in the literature.

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