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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Stephen J Ross
TPSYCH 421
Tacoma Campus

Social Psychology, Law, and Society

Examines the interaction of social psychology and the law and the role both play in the development of legal policy. Considers selected topics at the forefront of psych-legal inquiry, such as eyewitness testimony, confession evidence, and implicit bias. Prerequisite: either TPSYCH 240, TPSYCH 250, T CRIM 200.

Class description

Although the American criminal justice system incorporates numerous safeguards to prevent the conviction of innocent individuals, an increasing body of evidence has shown that wrongful convictions occur. To date, over 300 individuals in the US have been exonerated by the Innocence Project (see http://www.innocenceproject.org). In response to these errors, psychologists, criminologists, forensic scientists, journalists, and legal scholars have spent the last two decades examining cases of actual innocence for factors that may be responsible for such wrongful convictions. This seminar will focus on current research regarding the variety of factors that may lead to erroneous conviction and how scientific research can assist with minimizing the potential for these errors in the future. Specifically, the course will focus on psychological contributors to wrongful conviction and how social science can inform and influence public policy on these issues. Although we will primarily focus on psychological aspects of wrongful conviction, we may also address other social and legal factors that contribute to these miscarriages of justice including the impact of forensic “science”, legal counsel errors/misconduct, post-conviction remedies, and exoneree compensation.

Student learning goals

1. Identify and define social psychology and how it compares and contrasts with other fields of psychology and other social sciences. This objective contributes to the Psychology SLOs to 5.) be able to synthesize theories and methodologies across disciplines in the humanities and social sciences.

2. Apply the scientific method and basic principles of psychological research and be able to critically evaluate such research. This objective contributes to the Psychology SLO to 2.) understand the core concepts and methodologies of psychology.

3. Identify how basic psychological processes influence policing, investigations, and decision-making within the legal system. This objective contributes to the Psychology SLO to 4.) understand that human behavior may have some common determinants.

4. Understand the distinction between science and law and to what extent psychological research can inform the legal system. This objective contributes to the Psychology SLO to 6.) understand the application of psychological principles to the understanding of social issues.

5. Critically evaluate public policy and identify in what ways psychological science can influence social reforms. This objective contributes to the Psychology SLO to 6.) understand the application of psychological principles to the understanding of social issues.

General method of instruction

As this is a 400-level course, the expectations are similar to that of a graduate seminar. Success in this course requires regular class attendance and participation in class discussions. In addition, this course has a significant amount of reading each week. It is critical that you complete the required readings PRIOR TO the date the reading will be discussed in class according to the dates specified in the schedule (provided on the last page of the syllabus). As an upper-division course, the most-enhanced learning experience is one in which all participants have a basic understanding of the material (developed through readings) allowing in-depth discussions of the phenomena rather than basic-level lecture on the content.

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Additional Information
Last Update by Stephen J Ross
Date: 03/22/2013