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Let's talk about the research we saw at the AP-LS conference

In this chat format, we gather regular authors and guests in Slack and have a moderated conversation, guided by prompts and questions selected in advance. Participants get to respond to each other's points, make comments, and ask each other questions in real-time.

The transcript has been lightly edited.



rabbitsnore (Timothy J. Luke)
Welcome to another Exercise in Exceptions chat! This time, our topic is the conference we attended recently -- that is, the meeting of the American Psychology-Law Society (APLS). In a previous chat, we’ve talked with Gabi Rico about her first conference experience at APLS. Today, we’re chatting with a fellow researcher about our impressions of the content of the conference.

Will and I are joined today by our friend Natalie Gordon.

Natalie, care to introduce yourself and say a little bit about what kind of work you do?

Natalie Gordon
Sure! Thank you for having me. I am a PhD student in psychology and law at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.  My research is centered around decision-making—more specifically, how jurors make decisions about punishment in capital cases and damage awards in civil cases, and how long-term consequences might impact defendants’ plea decisions.

rabbitsnore
Thanks for joining us, Natalie! We're glad to have you here.

Will Crozier 🐙
Indeed! Thanks for stopping by

rabbitsnore
Conferences are full of presentations -- posters, talks, symposia. We all attended a bunch of these presentations, so let's start with a sort of obvious question: What was your favorite presentation, in any format?

And of course, why?

Natalie, as our guest, you can take the first stab at this.

Natalie Gordon
If I may, I’d actually like to answer this question by first providing you with the “why”, or what makes a talk, poster, or symposium my favorite. It mainly has to do with inspiration. This can be inspiration from someone’s presentation abilities or slides, or inspiration in the form of a new research idea.

At AP-LS this year, I had two “favorites,” or sources of inspiration. I was inspired by the symposium the two of you were a part of on “Why Memory Matters.” I was impressed by how each of the five of you had captivated your audience not simply through interesting research, but through your style of presentation. Minimal text, lots of visuals, and, frequently, an anecdote at the beginning to hook listeners in (e.g., the stories of Adnan Syed and Brendan Dassey). Just as a teacher or professor in school can make or break students’ ability to learn, I think that how researchers present their data to audiences can make or break whether the audience leaves feeling inspired and whether they will even remember the research!

rabbitsnore
Aw, thanks for that!

Will Crozier 🐙
shucks!
🙃

rabbitsnore
The style of our presentations (in addition to the substance) was something we all put a lot of effort into, so I'm glad it paid off!

Natalie Gordon
It was really great! You have only yourselves to thank.

My second source of inspiration came from another symposium I attended titled, “A system of pleas.”1 As I mentioned earlier, one of my research interests is on how long-term (or “collateral”) consequences might impact a defendant’s willingness to plead guilty to a crime. During this symposium, Dr. Tina Zottoli presented research from a national survey of policies and procedures related to the guilty plea process and one of their findings was that fewer than half of U.S. states require the presentation of what are called “collateral consequences instructions,” which provide information on collateral consequences to defendants during plea bargaining. Although relevant to my area of research, this actually was not what inspired me about her talk. I was inspired by a comment she made towards the end of her presentation when she posed the question, “How might collateral consequences impact perceptions of procedural fairness?” Then, another presenter asked the related question “How might offers framed in terms of fairness impact plea decisions?” (to be honest, I may have thought of this question on my own during the talk but I can’t remember; insert source monitoring nerd joke here). Anyway, I immediately started plotting research studies to examine these issues and, well, that’s where I am now. Inspired.

rabbitsnore
What do you mean by an offer framed in terms of fairness? Can you say more about that?

Natalie Gordon
Sure, so by that I mean whether the attorney tells his/her client that the deal is better than what most defendants would get, or that it's on par with what others would get.

rabbitsnore
Interesting. I imagine that's the sort of advice attorneys regularly give their clients.

Will Crozier 🐙
Are there legal restraints on that?
How would a defense attorney actually know what other offers are made outside of their own experience, and could that lead to bad legal advice?

Natalie Gordon
I think it definitely could lead to bad legal advice, and it's unclear whether they would actually be making such a statement because they believe it's true or because they want to get their client to plead guilty.

But I think that in studies of plea bargaining, it would be important to look at how the kind of language the attorneys use impacts defendants' willingness to plea. So whether they frame the offer as one that is fair or other tools of persuasion they might be able to use.

Will Crozier 🐙
Sounds like you've got your dissertation topic! haha

Natalie Gordon
Haha, it's a possibility!

rabbitsnore
Will, what about you? Favorite presentation?

Will Crozier 🐙
I'm going to have to give a bit of a cop out answer and reference a whole session that I enjoyed

rabbitsnore
If you say your favorite was our symposium I'm kicking you out of this chat.

Natalie Gordon
Hahaha!

Will Crozier 🐙
I think ranking the symposiums I've organized is the subject for another chat!

But, I went to a bright-and-early-8-am talk Saturday morning. It was “eyewitness memory” session but wasn’t explicitly eyewitness memory...more like memory applied to eyewitness situations. A really good friend of mine, Rob Michael, presented about how the ordering of hard-and-easy eyewitness questions might affect test performance or confidence.2 Another talk on how to elicit specific types of information during questioning, such as episodic info or semantic info.3 The third talk discussed how emotionality might affect what central or peripheral information people pick up.4 The fourth was about a form of context reinstatement to perhaps improve eyewitness memory5, and the last talk discussed how taking a test right after an event can actually make you more susceptible to memory distortion and misinformation.6

rabbitsnore
Props for going to an 8am session on the last day of the conference.

Natalie Gordon
That sounds interesting! More motivation to wake up early...

rabbitsnore
Why was that your favorite?

Will Crozier 🐙
All of these talks had some good memory theory behind them, and were applied to the eyewitness context (although not EXCLUSIVELY eyewitness). The work used a variety of methodologies, but made some interesting points about eyewitness memory that, I think, sometimes gets lost in a conference as super-applied as APLS.

Plus, I pulled out some nuggets for my own work

For example, for our study on alibis: the talk about how to elicit different types of information was helpful, because we may want to ask people about specific pieces of information to include in their alibis in a way that enhances memory recall

So if we wanted to know what someone was doing at a specific time, we would want to elicit more autobiographical information. In our study, we also use a strategy called "Mental Context Reinstatement," and one of the talks was about a variation of this strategy called meditative context reinstatement. For that example, the research wasn't on evoking alibi memories per se, but still might be something we look into for future research.

Natalie Gordon
Could you remind me what mental context reinstatement is?

Will Crozier 🐙
Sure!

In it's most simple form, you ask someone to close their eyes, and try to reimagine a specific memory. In the context of alibi generation, it would be something like "Think about what you were doing yesterday at 1pm. Close your eyes and try to focus on who you were with...where you were...what you were doing...try to imagine these details."

In theory, it generates more cues to help you reconstruct the memory than, say, just asking, "Hey what were you doing yesterday at 1 pm?"

Natalie Gordon
Ah okay. So can you also explain what you mean when you say that you would want to ask people about specific pieces of information to include in their alibis?

Will Crozier 🐙
If we were trying to evoke certain details, such as if we really wanted to know who someone was with. So if the police wanted to find someone to verify your alibi, they might want you to remember who you were with. Whereas some other detail, like exactly what you were doing, might be less relevant - relevant, but perhaps not the most important piece of information you could remember. But that's why I really enjoyed the session - none of the talks were specifically about these issues, but I was able to get some good ideas out of them.

Natalie Gordon
I see! That's great.

Will Crozier 🐙
Timothy, how about you - favorite presentation?

rabbitsnore
Similar to what Natalie said earlier -- my favorite talk of any conference is usually one that gets me thinking about something I previously hadn’t considered. In this case, it was Kevin Colwell’s talk about innocent suspects lying to the police.7 There are a lot of instances where innocent people lie to the police. Perhaps they committed some other crime or transgression and want to conceal it. Perhaps they don’t trust the police. This probably happens all the time, but we haven’t really studied it in the controlled environment of a psychology laboratory – or at all, as far as I know. The talk and the methods of the study he presented weren’t theoretically groundbreaking, but it brought light to an issue that I think we’ve largely ignored in the deception literature so far.

In fact, most of what Dr. Colwell discussed to frame his talk wasn't deception research at all. Rather, he talked about real cases he had consulted on as an expert witness, in which he believed (and in some cases they could prove) that an innocent person had lied to the police.

In my own work, I've noticed a few occurrences of innocent people lying in studies where I've had people committing mock crimes and then being interviewed. I've never had a good explanation for the behavior (and honestly, I haven't thought about it very much), and I'm really glad someone is working on this problem.

Will Crozier 🐙
Is that the first study you've seen on the topic?

rabbitsnore
Literally the first I have ever seen. And to put it in context, the deception literature has been around since the late 1800s.

Natalie Gordon
I mentioned procedural justice earlier and I think that's relevant here too. I believe there is research showing that increasing perceptions of procedural justice (or fairness) in community members increases trust in police.

So one reason innocents might lie to police is because they think the process that got them there was unfair, or their treatment was unfair, etc.

rabbitsnore
Yeah, I've had similar thoughts!

In fact, one thing I noticed in the handful of innocents who lied to the interviewers in my lab is that they were all people of color. It’s possible people who are often marginalized in society have lower trust in the authorities. I don't have the data to give anything even close to a conclusive answer for innocent lying, but procedural fairness issues have crossed my mind as well.

Will Crozier 🐙
We recently used a scale to measure perceptions of procedural fairness in a paper on body worn cameras that just got published in Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. Perhaps that would be of interest to ya'lls' future studies

rabbitsnore
Oh, nice. Yes, please.

Natalie Gordon
Please do pass it along!

rabbitsnore
Aside from our favorite talks, did you two notice any new trends at the conference? Natalie, let's start with you again.

Natalie Gordon
What I notice is, of course, biased because I go to AP-LS looking for sessions on research that I care about (with a dash of research that I just find interesting), so my focus this year was on juries and plea bargaining. But one thing I did notice was that greater attention is being given to research on plea bargaining. This year there were three sessions devoted entirely to plea bargaining (one on juveniles and guilty pleas, the one on a “system of pleas” that I mentioned earlier, and one just titled “Pleas”), whereas last year there were no sessions on plea bargaining and the year before that there was only one session on plea bargaining. I’m happy that more attention is being given to plea bargaining at AP-LS because we are a system of pleas and, as such, deserves more of our attention. It’s also an area that is ripe for research.

Will Crozier 🐙
...man, that was going to be my answer, too

Natalie Gordon
Great minds...! 🙂

rabbitsnore
Side note, when I saw the sign for the "Pleas" session, I first read it as a misspelling of "Please."

And I was so confused.

Natalie Gordon
Hahaha

rabbitsnore
Is it your sense that the new push toward plea bargaining research is here to stay?

Natalie Gordon
I would say so. There was a special issue in Psych, Public Policy, & Law on plea bargaining (actually I think it's forthcoming).
I think there will be more of that. And I certainly hope there is!

rabbitsnore
Given that well over 90% of cases in the US are resolved with a guilty plea, the topic should definitely receive more attention that it has.

rabbitsnore
As the one person in this chat not in the US, I feel compelled to point out that not every system is a system of pleas, though.

Sweden, where I'm living and working right now, doesn't have guilty pleas at all. Every case that is prosecuted goes to trial. But there's a different research problem: Sweden uses panels of professional and lay judges, rather than juries. We know very little about decision-making in these mixed tribunals.

Natalie Gordon
We're just starting up a study on mixed tribunals in my lab. I'll have to report back to you!

rabbitsnore
Really? That's awesome!

Will Crozier 🐙
I also noticed that there was still a bit of debate over exactly how to best think about eyewitness lineups.

There was some of that last year as well...I believe Gary Wells pointed out that it's interesting we have an idea of what makes a lineup unfair to a suspect, but we're still trying to work out how to make lineups fair, but still be useful to police

rabbitsnore
Is there a perception that fair lineups are less useful?

Will Crozier 🐙
Well, if you make a lineup a really, really, really hard memory test, for example by making all of the people in the lineups look almost identical, then most people probably won't have a strong enough memory to pick the "right" person. So on one hand if a lineup is unfair, the suspect really jumps out at you because they look too different from everyone else...like, he's the only person with a beard. On the other hand, if everyone looks almost identical, it's basically guessing who the person you remember is, because memory for faces is pretty hard

rabbitsnore
Right, there's almost always a tradeoff between hit rate and false positives.

Will Crozier 🐙
Any trends you noticed, Timothy?

rabbitsnore
I’m going to answer this question by breaking the rules a bit and talking about a trend that I’ve noticed for a while. For a several years, I’ve been disappointed by how little theory has been discussed in deception research. A lot of deception research – especially deception detection research – is really lacking in theoretical grounding. Much of it is focused on practicality (e.g., does accuracy increase or decrease in such-and-such a situation?). I understand that the conference is, of course, largely focused on practical issues, but I wish people would get back to the social and cognitive psychological roots of deception more. I think it would help researchers generate more thoughtful and interesting ideas.

Will Crozier 🐙
Theory is something that sometimes gets skimmed over in talks in general, I think. It's usually a "based on such and such a theory, we'd see this..." without, perhaps, an in-depth look at why. And now that you mention it, i struggle to remember how often theories are tested...which can be tough at an applied conference like APLS, but that doesn't make it less important scientifically

Natalie Gordon
I agree. I think it's important for there to be application of theory in psycho-legal research.

rabbitsnore
Speaking of things the field needs, let's move on to our last question: Was there anything at the conference you wanted to see more of or that you thought could be improved?

Natalie Gordon
Yes to both! One area of research that is underrepresented at AP-LS is in the civil arena. There was only one session at the conference this year devoted to this kind of research. So much of what is presented at AP-LS focuses on the criminal side of our justice system, but there is also a civil side with a range of case types—personal injury, medical malpractice, patents, etc.—and it would be interesting to see more research there. This also relates to what I think could be improved at AP-LS: a greater attorney presence. Few attorneys attend AP-LS, but that means that the questions asked of our panelists and the opportunities to be provided with insight by those at the frontlines of the criminal justice system are limited. I think efforts need to be made to recruit attorneys who can come speak to academics in a constructive and potentially even collaborative way.

Will Crozier 🐙
Both excellent points

rabbitsnore
Do you have any ideas about why there aren't more lawyers at the conference?

Natalie Gordon
I would imagine part of it is that they just don't know about it, but I also wonder whether they would come even if they did. I think some would, those who think speaking to psychologists is important and who respect the research that we do. I think others wouldn't, especially if they think what we do in the laboratory is not relevant to actual cases, and it's that group I think we especially need to talk to so that we can have the opportunity to explain the importance and application of our research.

Will Crozier 🐙
I wonder to what extent the perception of APLS is that we're a bunch of out-of-touch psychologists just looking to ruin law enforcement

(and by "I wonder to what extent" I mean, I really don't know)

rabbitsnore
There are a fair number of law enforcement officers who attend the conference, but like with lawyers, probably not as many as there should be.

To some extent, I worry that if more lawyers and police attended, they'd be lost in all the research-babble. Our presentations are often full of jargon and might be inaccessible.

Natalie Gordon
True, but this might motivate us to become better at communicating to that audience so that we might change any negative perceptions that exist or prevent confusion.

rabbitsnore
I totally agree.

Will, what about you? Anything you wanted more of or would like to see improved?

Will Crozier 🐙
Hm. 8 am is too early

rabbitsnore
Heh.

Will Crozier 🐙
I did go on a twitter rant about wanting to see more about open and reproducible research. So I’ll save you from rehashing that, except to say: hopefully there’s more mention of preregistration, open materials, and open data at next year’s conference.

It's a really important part of science that is particularly valuable to psychology...and it seems like perhaps it hasn't quite caught on yet at APLS

Natalie Gordon
Maybe there's an idea for a pre-conference workshop?

rabbitsnore
That was my biggest area of concern, too. I hardly saw any open science, apart from the work we were involved in.

A workshop might be a good idea!

The official APLS journal -- Law and Human Behavior -- has been making increasing efforts to support open science in their publications. But it would be great if there were more support for it at the conference.

Will Crozier 🐙
I do think there's some room for some official endorsement, like pre-conference workshops, or even symposiums

But I think cultural endorsement would be really helpful and powerful too...if everyone/most people/some people publicize their open science practices, i think it will catch on

Natalie Gordon
It's important. I know that my lab wants to start working on pre-registering all of our projects.

Will Crozier 🐙
Exactly! Grass-roots open science campaigns

rabbitsnore
I just did a talk on open science for my research group here at the University of Gothenburg. I have a bunch of resources I can pass along, if they'd be helpful.

Will Crozier 🐙
Your lab starts doing it, you mention it to researchers elsewhere, they start doing it...basically, open science going viral

Apart from open science, I'd say I really enjoyed the data blitzes

I think they're a good practice, and a great way to fit a few more talks in to the conference schedule

I hope they bring them back next year

Natalie Gordon
I was curious about those! I didn't get to attend any. Glad to hear you liked them, I thought it was a neat idea.

rabbitsnore
We touched on this in our chat with Gabi... I actually didn't like them very much.

Will Crozier 🐙
Oh?

rabbitsnore
Don't get me wrong. I really like the format, and I could pick out individual talks I thought were great.

But I thought the sessions were a bit too loosely organized.

Will Crozier 🐙
So an execution problem?

rabbitsnore
There was no unifying theme at the sessions, so you could easily end up listening to a talk about a topic you know very little about. When you only have a few minutes to give a talk, it's hard to present your ideas in a way that someone unfamiliar with the topic can figure out what's going on. It's a challenge for the presenters, and it's a challenge for the audience.

So I'd prefer to see more thematic organization. But I'm fussing about the details of an otherwise good idea.

Natalie Gordon
That seems like a fair point and something they could easily fix.

Will Crozier 🐙
Gotta find the anonymous suggestion box

rabbitsnore
I hope so! Like I said, I really enjoy the format.

We've worked through all the questions I have. Any final comments before we wrap up?

Will Crozier 🐙
I don't think I got a chance to specifically plug for Natalie's talk, but it was quite good!

I'm looking forward to seeing your next presentation

Natalie Gordon
Aw well thank you! I appreciate that.

I was actually going to say that this was my favorite AP-LS so far. I've been to five now (I think), and I'm glad I got to speak about my thoughts on AP-LS this year with the two of you. You learn a lot about how to make the conference fruitful for you with every year that you go.

rabbitsnore
Having been to a lot of conferences myself -- I heartily agree.

Thank you again for joining us and sharing your thoughts, Natalie!

Natalie Gordon
Thank you for having me! It's been a pleasure.


References

[1]State of the States: Advancing Guilty Plea Research Through a National Survey of United States Law
Tina M. Zottoli, PhD - Montclair State University; Tarika Daftary-Kapur, PhD - Fairleigh Dickinson University; Vanessa A. Edkins, PhD - Florida Institute of Technology; Allison D. Redlich, PhD - George Mason University; Christopher M. King, JD, PhD - Montclair State University; Lucian E. Dervan, JD - Belmont University; Elizabeth Tahan, BA/BS - Montclair State University

Abstract: We conducted a national survey of statutes, case law, and court rules in the United States pertaining to the guilty plea process. We present the results of our survey in three areas (time-limited offers, collateral consequences instructions and baseless pleas) and we discuss implications for future research that is informed by jurisdictional differences in policies and procedures across the U.S. We anticipate that these data will facilitate the development of novel research questions about the impact of existing policies on plea decisionmaking and outcomes.

[2] The Order of Question Difficulty Affects Eyewitness Beliefs: A Meta-Analysis of Two Paradigms Robert B. Michael, PhD - University of Louisiana at Lafayette; Yana Weinstein, PhD - University of Massachusetts Lowell

Abstract: A simple change to test construction—flipping questions from an easy-to-hard to hard-to-easy order— affects test performance evaluations. This effect has been demonstrated in eyewitnesses and students. But with limited studies, it is difficult to know a precise estimate of the effect’s magnitude. We meta-analyzed 7,215 participants across 39 studies to more precisely estimate the influence of question difficulty order. These more precise and robust estimates show that question difficulty order affects performance evaluations: Easy-to-hard questions produce 8% more optimistic performance evaluations than hard-to-easy questions. These more precise effect size estimates have implications for test constructors and interviewers.

[3] Memory and the Cooperative Source: How Can We Obtain Richer Information?
Jacob M. Champagne, BA/BS - University of Michigan - Flint; Haley Dawson, BA/BS - University of Michigan - Flint; Peter F. Molinaro, PhD - University of Michigan - Flint

Abstract: Investigators need to gather rich information about suspects, from others, connected to that individual. While current interviewing research focuses on cooperative witnesses, little research has examined interviewing strategies for cooperative sources. Cooperative sources rely on both semantic and episodic memories when reporting their “biographical memories”. Biographical memories may be organized within autobiographical memory, and thus, be subject to organizational mnemonics. The current experiment tested two mnemonics: semantic categorization and life period retrieval strategies. Amounts of information gathered in both conditions were compared to a control condition, where no retrieval/organizational strategy was implemented. Results and implications for investigative interviewing are discussed.

[4] Emotional Memory: The Role of Personality Traits and the Central-Peripheral Trade-Off
Lauren Thompson, BA/BS - Carleton University; Ellen Tansony, MA/MS - Carleton University; Adelle Forth, PhD - Carleton University

Abstract: With a sample of 68 students, the current study sought to explore the effects of the Five-Factor Model personality dimensions and central-peripheral tradeoffs on emotional memory and attention. Participant’s eye movements were tracked as they viewed a negative, positive, and neutral image. Memory for these images was subsequently tested. Results indicated that memory was enhanced for the positive compared to the negative image and a central-peripheral trade-off was found only for the positive and neutral images. When personality  114 Saturday, March 10th was assessed, neuroticism and openness were both positively related to memory of the negative image. Eye tracking patterns were unrelated to memory.

[5] Meditative Context Reinstatement on Eyewitness Metacognition
Brittany Race, MA/MS - University of Arkansas; James M. Lampinen, PhD - University of Arkansas

Abstract: Participants watched a video featuring a car theft. They were then given a target-present or target-absent, sixperson lineup. Following their choice they were given
either confirming or neutral feedback. Following feedback participants either completed a filler task only or a filler task and a guided context reinstatement, focusing on when they made a decision in the lineup. Participants then completed post-identification feedback questions. Context reinstatement provided a more diagnostic value to confidence statements. Correct choosers reported significantly increased levels of confidence with context reinstatement, but incorrect choosers showed no significant effect of context reinstatement.

[6] Does Retrieval Enhance Eyewitness Suggestibility Because Taking an Initial Memory Test Increases the Perceived Accuracy of the Misinformation Narrative?
Krista D. Manley, MA/MS - Iowa State University; Jason CK. Chan, PhD - Iowa State University

Abstract: Despite the robust memory-enhancing benefits of retrieval practice, it can ironically exacerbate eyewitness’ susceptibility to later misinformation - a phenomenon known as Retrieval-Enhanced Suggestibility (RES; Chan, Manley, & Lang, 2017). One explanation for this finding is that after taking a memory test, participant witnesses are more likely to treat the subsequently-presented misinformation narrative as providing corrective feedback (e.g., Rindal, DeFranco, Rich, & Zaragoza, 2016). In the current study, we provided a direct test of this hypothesis by asking participants to rate their perceived accuracy of the narrative. Our results are inconsistent with this account of RES.

[7]Lies by the Innocent
Kevin Colwell, PhD - Southern Connecticut State University; Amina Memon, PhD - Royal Holloway U; Rachel Zagielski, BA/BS - Southern Connecticut State University

Abstract: When and why do Innocent Suspects lie? This has never been studied, and it had always been assumed that innocent suspects were just witnesses. This is definitely not true. The current work studied innocent suspects, innocent suspects who committed a social transgression, and guilty suspects. Those who committed the social transgression often chose to omit this from their statements. This omission made them appear as guilty as the genuinely-guilty suspects. Discussion will include cases where this has happened and led to false confessions, and implications for this new paradigm of research.

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