If Only They Would Listen: The Need for Psychology in the Legal System

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Abstract

Reviews the book, Emotions and Culpability: How the Law Is at Odds With Psychology, Jurors, and Itself by Norman J. Finkel and W. Gerrod Parrott (see record 2006-07730-000). Norman J. Finkel and W. Gerrod Parrott are experts in emotions, jury decision making, and legal reasoning, and their contributions and expertise shine brightly in this outstanding book. From the beginning, Finkel and Parrott emphasize that they do not intend to be merely critical of the law but instead want to inform the law with perspectives from psychology. The authors base their arguments on statutes and laws, a commonsense understanding of unlawful deeds, and research from psychology (especially the area of jury decision making). They illustrate inconsistencies in the law itself by examining laws relating to murder on a continuum of self-defense, manslaughter, and first degree or capital murder. Each level of this continuum represents differing degrees of culpability. The book reviews research that shows that emotions are understood by most people in the context of a story they create about how and when emotions arise. The authors argue that juries and fact finders use these stories to assign culpability for unlawful behavior. In summary, this is a scholarly and well-written book that should be a part of the training of forensic psychologists. It has much value for those interested in research on moral decision making and for those interested in ways to improve the relevance of our laws. Its message is clearly valuable for clinicians, researchers, judges, attorneys, and legislative lawmakers. The challenge is to improve our legal system by getting people to listen to the contributions of psychology. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2007 APA, all rights reserved)

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