Sunday, July 31, 2016
Research byte: The influence of working memory and cognitive load on police shooting decisions, interrogation, and jury decisions
Available online 22 July 2016
The ability of police and jurors to make informed, unbiased decisions is paramount to the integrity of the legal system. Police and jurors as decision-makers follow procedures ensuring that individuals receive a fair trial from the time of arrest to sentencing. However this process has come under public scrutiny with recent negative media attention focused on police shootings, aggressive handling or interrogation of suspects, and jurors’ seemingly biased treatment of minority group members. Most researchers studying factors that motivate police and juror behavior focus on the external influences of decision-making, such as the climate of violence in a neighborhood, or culturally-entrenched criminal stereotypes. Fewer have focused on the cognitive factors that impact the internal decision-making processes. In this review we compile the research on individual differences in cognitive ability (e.g., working memory capacity) and event circumstances (e.g., high emotion, attention load), that influence police and jury decision-making. The majority of studies in this area are laboratory-based which may attenuate the transfer of findings to real-world settings, but cognitive mechanisms engaged in the field are likely similar. Overall, this review suggests that overload of cognitive capacity reduces controlled processing ability, which may work to undermine the reliability of decision-making at all phases of the legal process. Field studies are needed to better understand when decision-makers may be overburdened, and what interventions are most appropriate.