Skip navigation
Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item:
Authors: Sood, Avani Mehta
Advisors: Cooper, Joel
Darley, John M
Contributors: Psychology Department
Keywords: criminal law
exclusionary rule
harm principle
legal judgments
motivated cognition
motivted reasoning
Subjects: Psychology
Issue Date: 2013
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: This dissertation applies the psychological theory of motivated cognition to explain and address the ways in which people make judgments in two charged areas of criminal law: the use of "harm" as a dividing line between law and morality, and the suppression of "tainted" evidence obtained through illegal means. Legal decision makers in high stakes criminal justice contexts--be they lay jurors or professional judges--are committed to following the law. What happens, however, when people's intuitions about the "right" outcome in a case clash with the requirements of a legal rule? I suggest that decision makers in such situations will neither relinquish their own sense of justice, nor blatantly flout the law. Instead, they will less-than-consciously engage in the motivated construal of "facts" to achieve their desired punishment outcomes ostensibly within the terms of the given legal doctrine. However, the factors that drive people's own justice intuitions may be legally irrelevant or impermissible to consider, leading to the erosion of fundamental constitutional and rule of law values. The dissertation proceeds as follows: Chapters I-III provide overviews of the theory of motivated reasoning, previous literature investigating this phenomenon in legal contexts, and the goals of the present research. Chapter IV then presents three experimental studies that use a hypothetical legal constraint based on the harm principle to investigate how punishment goals can motivate judgments about harm. I show that when people are told that a finding of harm is required to criminalize certain offensive conduct, they will impute harm to scenarios in which harm is not otherwise reported. I analyze the psychological and constitutional implications of the findings, and consider their relevance to real legal decision making by jurors, voters, lawyers, and judges. Chapter V then follows with a doctrinal demonstration of how and why motivated cognition can influence applications of a real law, the "exclusionary rule," which prohibits the use of wrongfully obtained evidence in criminal cases regardless of the defendant's crime. I show that participants who are motivated to see a morally repugnant crime brought to justice will construe the facts of the case in a manner that enables them to invoke an exception to the exclusionary rule and admit the tainted evidence. I discuss these experimental results in regard to public and judicial responses to the exclusionary rule, and the evolution of the Supreme Court's jurisprudence on this controversial doctrine of criminal procedure. Chapter VI turns to the critical question of how to address the problem of motivated cognition in legal decision making. I present the results of a final experiment that succeeds in curtailing the effect. I then consider ways in which to operationalize the remedy in real legal contexts, and highlight some shortcomings and alternatives to this route. Finally, Chapter VII notes the theoretical contributions of this work, discusses the challenges of using experimental methodologies to study and reform the legal system, and proposes some future directions for research. The findings presented in this dissertation demonstrate that the legal system's assumptions about how people reach judgments under the law are not always psychologically tenable, which creates difficulties in enforcing important legal principles. This program of research therefore strives toward making legal decision making more compatible with both human cognition and the rule of law.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Psychology

Files in This Item:
File Description SizeFormat 
Sood_princeton_0181D_10611.pdf2.4 MBAdobe PDFView/Download

Items in Dataspace are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved, unless otherwise indicated.