Testing effects of framing on punishment decisions involving violence risk assessment

Project Awarded: $30,775.50

From stock investments, to medical triage, to criminal sentencing, human beings are regularly tasked to make important decisions with limited information. Unfortunately, the cognitive processes known to enable us to make such decisions efficiently also give rise to systematic biases (Kahneman & Tversky, 1986). Many public institutions have begun to utilize evidence-based protocols to help guard against decision bias, yet little is known about the way practitioners carry out and interpret the results of these protocols. Nowhere is this problem more concerning than in courts of law, where authorities must make punishment decisions based on tools designed to estimate violence risk. The overall aim of this project is to characterize the influence of two potential sources of bias on punishment judgments in the context of how violence risk assessments are communicated to judges and jurors: (1) whether violence risk estimates are based on evidence that is framed as behavioral or neurobiological, and (2) whether these estimates are expressed using a loss frame (e.g., “26% probability of violence recurring”), gain frame (e.g., “74% probability of violence not recurring”), or both frames. This aim will be achieved by conducting three experimental vignette surveys with 500 jury-eligible U.S. citizens and 200 professional judges. Using case summaries adapted from real criminal cases, these studies will test hypotheses that framing negatively impacts punishment judgments among lay and expert judges, and that particular personality traits or competencies help to explain when a person will be most susceptible to such framing.

Team members:

Eyal Aharoni, Ph.D. Psychology Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA

Eyal Aharoni, Ph.D. Psychology Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA

Jennifer Blumenthal-Barby, Ph.D. Baylor College of Medicine Houston, TX 

Jennifer Blumenthal-Barby, Ph.D. Baylor College of Medicine Houston, TX 

Gidon Felsen, Ph.D. University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, CO

Gidon Felsen, Ph.D. University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, CO

Karine Vold, Ph.D/Candidate Department of Philosophy, McGill University, Canada 

Karine Vold, Ph.D/Candidate Department of Philosophy, McGill University, Canada