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University of Gothenburg

Decision making in legal contexts

The criminal-law process can be construed as a chain of sequential decisions. Starting with investigators’ initial assessment of crime-scene observations, and ending with judges’ and juries’ passing of a verdict, the outcome of a criminal proceeding is ultimately determined by the inferences and conclusions drawn by individual decision makers. Understanding human judgment and decision making is, thus, central to explaining and improving the criminal justice system at large. Traditionally, research in this area has predominantly focused on legal decision making by lay people (i.e., jurors, lay judges) in trial settings. Our research has broadened the scope in several regards, including studies on professional investigators’ decision making, the role of feelings in legal judgments, and the effects of modern courtroom technology on the evaluation of evidence.

Areas of research

1. Affect and legal judgments

Practitioners in the legal system frequently face information provoking strong feelings (e.g., graphic evidence, emotional testimonies). Whereas current legislation dictates that subjective reactions should not influence legal judgments, compelling psychological evidence shows that feelings have a powerful influence on human judgments across a multitude of domains. In this area, we examine how feelings influence, and are used to inform, judgments of reliability and credibility in legal settings.

2. Investigators’ decision making

We examine how criminal investigators make sense of investigative findings, search for evidence, and decide on lines of inquiry. In addition, we study how these processes are influenced by factors internal (e.g., feelings, motivation) and external (e.g., time pressure, occupational culture) to the individual investigator.

3. Evidence evaluation

Recent legal reforms have introduced a more liberal stance toward the use of modern technology (e.g., computer simulations, videotaped statements) in criminal trials. However, the psychological consequences of modern courtroom technology remain to be explored. Our research on this topic includes studies on how presentation media (e.g., video, live, CCTV) influence the perception of witnesses’ and defendants’ testimony.

  • Ask, K., & Pina, A. (2011). On being angry and punitive: How anger alters perception of criminal intent. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 2, 494-499.
  • Ask, K. & Granhag, P.A. (2007). Hot cognition in investigative judgments: The differential impact of anger and sadness. Law and Human Behavior, 31, 537–551.
  • Ask, K., Granhag, P. A., & Rebelius, A. (in press). Investigators under influence: How social norms activate goal-directed processing of criminal evidence. Applied Cognitive Psychology.
  • Ask, K., Rebelius, A, & Granhag, P. A. (2008). The 'elasticity' of criminal evidence: A moderator of investigator bias. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 22, 1245-1259.
  • Landström, S. & Granhag, P.A. (2010). In-court vs. Out-of-court testimonies: Children's experiences and adult's assessment. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24, 941-955.
  • Landström, S., Granhag, P.A., & Hartwig, M. (2005). Witnesses appearing live vs. on video: How presentation format affect observers’ perception, assessment and memory. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 19, 913-933.