Law and Psychology
When can scientific findings from experimental psychology be confidently applied to legal issues? When applications have clear limits, do legal commentators readily acknowledge them? To address these questions, we survey recent findings from an emerging field of research on research (i.e., metaresearch). We find that many aspects of experimental psychology’s research and reporting practices threaten the validity and generalizability of legally relevant research findings, including those relied on by courts and policy-setting bodies. As a case study, we appraise the empirical claims relied on by commentators claiming that measures designed to estimate implicit bias are valid, that implicit bias causes behavior, and that interventions such as trainings can reduce implicit bias—and therefore problematic behavior presumed to be caused by implicit bias. We show that the scientific findings used to support these claims have been persuasively disputed or carry many indicia of unreliability. For example, only limited evidence indicates that interventions designed to reduce prejudicial behavior through implicit bias training are effective. In addition, the research area shows signs of publication bias, suggesting that published estimates of correlations between implicit bias measures and behavior and estimates of the effects of interventions on implicit bias measures do not reflect true effects and causal relationships. To examine whether law journal article authors acknowledge these limits, we collect a sample of one hundred law journal articles mentioning “implicit bias training” published from 2017–2021. Of those one hundred articles, fifty-eight recommend implicit bias training and only eight of those fifty-eight express any skepticism about its effectiveness. Overall, only nineteen of the one hundred articles express skepticism about implicit bias training. We end with recommendations for psychology researchers, law school administrators, legal scholars, law journal editors, courts, and policymakers towards more credible applications of psychology findings in law research and policy. Our focus is on how empirical research can be best used to solve our most important social issues including racism.
Chin, Jason M.; Holcombe, Alex O.; Zeiler, Kathryn; Forscher, Patrick S.; and Guo, Ann, "Metaresearch, Psychology, and Law: A Case Study on Implicit Bias" (2023). Connecticut Law Review. 582.