A pair of
faculty members at Indiana University of Pennsylvania recently received a $334,787
grant from the National Science Foundation to study biases in opinions relating
to the testimony of experts in forensic psychology cases.
and Anthony Perillo, assistant professors in the Department of Psychology,
will use the funding to study how experts in the field of forensic psychology
sometimes are influenced by outside factors that result in them having biased
is the largest grant awarded to the Department of Psychology since 1987, when
the psychology doctoral program (PsyD) was created.
psychology encompasses a range of topics in criminal and civil cases.
about using psychology to answer key questions in the legal system,” said
Anthony Perillo. “It’s everything from insanity defenses to risk assessments to
mental competency hearings.”
Perillo said she got the idea to seek the funding after reading an article
about a different topic.
inspired by an article I read about plea bargaining,” she said. “It talked
about how and why lawyers and prosecutors come up with plea decisions. It
talked about what sort of elements went into making the decisions, and I
thought that the framework of that study could be used on this topic.”
two years to complete the proposal and receive the approval from the NSF.
study, the Perillos will offer case files to experts in the forensic psychology
field and gauge their decisions.
issue is that the experts are supposed to be objective,” Anthony Perillo said,
“but sometimes they can be unintentionally biased toward who hired them.”
is that enough data will show some patterns or trends in terms of what
influences experts’ opinions, which could then help lead to suggestions for
better ways to conduct forensic evaluations.
general, people have biases,” Jennifer Perillo said. “What we’re interested in
is the perception that if you are an expert, you are immune to biases. But this
isn’t just a forensic psychology issue because sometimes there are biases from
other kinds of experts, too.”
for the two-year study has afforded the Perillos the opportunity to hire two
graduate assistants, Masha Berman and Sarah Kysor. The students will work with
the Perillos to create the case files, send them out, collate the data, and then
help come up with a conclusion.
an issue where we know the ‘what’ but we don’t understand the ‘why,’” Anthony
Perillo said. “We don’t know what goes into making some of these decisions.”
eliminate biases,” Jennifer Perillo added, “but we can reduce them. The more we
reduce biases, the fairer our justice system can be.”