Tess Neal was awarded a collaborative NSF grant from the Law and Social Science Program with colleague Brian Bornstein at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The title of the project is, “Calibration in Court: Jurors’ Use of Scientific Information.” ASU’s portion of the collaborative grant is $131,178 and UNL’s portion is $141,109. The grant will be active from 9/1/2017 – 8/31/2019.
As information becomes increasingly accessible, people are processing more, and more complex, information than ever before. Often this information contains, or is based on, scientific research. The validity and reliability of various kinds of scientific information varies widely, and laypeople are poorly equipped to differentiate between weak and strong scientific information when making decisions—that is, they are not well calibrated in their use of scientific information. One situation in which laypeople frequently encounter scientific information is in jury trials. This project consists of two jury simulation studies that will examine jurors’ (as individuals) and juries’ (as deliberating groups) sensitivity to strong versus weak scientific information presented in court. The project will also investigate mock jurors’ use of scientific evidence depending on different ways that it is presented to them, individual differences among jurors (e.g., ability to process numbers and complex information, trust in science), and trial safeguards (e.g., jury instructions, deliberation). The research will address the effect of these factors on mock jurors’ comprehension of the scientific evidence, verdicts, perceptions of witnesses, and deliberation behavior. In the absence of jurors’ and juries’ abilities to base their decisions on a reasonable understanding of relevant scientific information, their ability to make well-informed decisions may be jeopardized, thereby raising the risk of unjust outcomes (e.g., false convictions in criminal cases).
The project’s two proposed jury simulation experiments use diverse participant samples (university students, community members recruited online, and community members recruited locally) to address the following aims: 1) identify individual difference factors that predict people’s ability to rely appropriately on scientific evidence; 2) investigate the effectiveness of a Fuzzy Trace Theory-inspired safeguard compared to traditional safeguards to enhance people’s ability to rely appropriately on scientific evidence; and 3) assess the role of scientific evidence in jury deliberation, especially based on evidence quality, individual differences, and safeguards. Individual differences include scientific reasoning abilities, cognitive processing styles, levels of numeracy, and attitudes toward science. This multidisciplinary, multi-method research will fill significant gaps in our understanding of when and how laypeople’s inferences are appropriately calibrated to the st rength of scientific information; whether a safeguard derived from decision-making theory can improve calibration; which individuals are better versus worse calibrated; and how various measures relevant to the processing of scientific information are related to one another. The research addresses fundamental questions about how humans reason with and make inferences and decisions based on the quality of relevant scientific data. The current project has broad and highly positive societal impact with the potential to improve the way courts use science to inform laypeople’s decisions.