Negative perceptions of rap threaten to bias jurors in criminal trials involving rappers

June 2017

Police suspected that Olutosin Oduwole, a student at Southern Illinois University, was plotting a campus mass shooting, and in 2007 arrived at his dorm room door to arrest him. In the trial, prosecutors used a set of violent rap lyrics as evidence against him.

But using such lyrics against defendants is fraught with peril, says Charis Kubrin, a professor of criminology, law and society. Kubrin conducted a study asking participants to evaluate a set of lyrics and determine how threatening and offensive they were. Even though all the participants read the same set of lyrics, those who were told the lyrics were rap consistently evaluated them more negatively.

The conclusion: the label "rap" carries baggage for people. And that baggage can bias jurors and judges during criminal trials involving rappers.

False memories led to guilt admissions in 1989 Nebraska murder

June 2017

In 1989, a Nebraska woman was murdered. Six people were accused; five took pleas and, over the course of suggestive interrogations, came to believe they were guilty. Two generated memories of the crime that embedded so deep they could be vividly recalled decades later.

But none of the six accused were responsible. It was the largest DNA exoneration involving false memory in U.S. judicial history.

The case demonstrates the malleability of memory. "Memory is born anew every day," Elizabeth Loftus, distinguished professor of social ecology, told The New Yorker.

Latino students thrive at UCI, which is named a Hispanic Serving Institution

June 2017

Angela Vera, the daughter of a Mexico-born carpenter with a second-grade education, was able to thrive at UC Irvine because of the financial aid, academic support and leadership opportunities at the university.

"I always thought UC was for students up here," Vera, who will complete a double major in criminology, law and society and social ecology next year, told the LA Times. "I never saw myself as capable."

Irvine is the most popular UC campus for Latino freshmen applicants, the campus was recently designated a Hispanic Serving Institution.

Journaling methods help improve mental and physical health

June 2017

A journaling method called "expressive writing" -- recording your deepest thoughts and feelings for 15 to 30 minutes a day, usually for period of days or weeks -- has numerous physical and psychological benefits, according to a meta-analysis of 146 studies on expressive writing conducted by Joanne Zinger, associate professor of teaching. The practice can improve mental health and even cause wounds to heal faster.

Zinger's work was featured in The Guardian.

Graduating PhD student studies the danger of using rap music in criminal trials

Negative perceptions of rap music and rappers threaten to sway juries in criminal trials.

In cases across the U.S., criminal investigators have been treating rap lyrics as confession evidence rather than as art or entertainment. The aspiring rappers’ lyrics – found on scraps of paper, in online rap videos, on Facebook posts and in other places – become courtroom evidence.

But a major concern is that negative stereotypes about rap music influence how jurors evaluate the lyrics and the people who write them. Jurors are allowed to examine lyrics for intent to commit a crime, but pervasive associations of rap with criminality mean they might consciously or unconsciously also use the lyrics to determine whether a defendant is the type of person who would commit a crime – even though the lyrics aren’t allowed to be used in that way.

Adam Dunbar, who is graduating with a PhD in Criminology, Law and Society, has studied the intricacies of how people perceive rap music – and how those perceptions result in rap music being a potentially discriminatory form of evidence in criminal trials. People bring a certain baggage, which is often racial, to their understanding of rap lyrics and rappers.

Jennifer Sango wins Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research

June 2017

Jennifer Sango, a Social Ecology undergraduate, has won the 2017 Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research. The award, given by the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, recognizes the research accomplishments of one student per school. Her Honor's advisor and research mentor is Susan Charles, professor of psychology and social behavior.

John Hipp wins Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Fostering Undergraduate Research

June 2017

John Hipp, professor of criminology, law and society, has won the 2017 Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Fostering Undergraduate Research. The award is a recognition of his outstanding work in mentoring undergraduate students engaged in research. Hipp is the director of the Metropolitan Futures Initiative.

James Comey and memory rehearsal: storing some details while others fade

June 2017

Former FBI Director James Comey started recording detailed memos of his interactions with President Donald Trump immediately after their first one-on-one meeting -- a fact that came up during his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee June 8.

An FBI agent's contemporaneous notes are widely considered reliable evidence of conversations, but there is a downside to such a memory archiving method, says Elizabeth Loftus, distinguished professor of psychology and social behavior. Replaying events to write them down is a form of "rehearsal," or a way to better retain memories. While that rehearsing can help strengthen recollection of some details, it actually allows other non-rehearsed details to fade faster, a process known as retrieval-induced forgetting.

Crowded conditions on airplanes induce stress, and sometimes altercations

June 2017

A record 234 million people are expected to fly this summer -- crammed into aluminum cylinders with uncomfortable seats and a host of strangers. The crowded conditions on commercial airplane flights contribute to stress that can lead to altercations and dysfunctional behavior, according to Dan Stokols, Chancellor's professor emeritus.

"People are like cattle being squished together, to get as many people on that plane," Stokols told the Washington Post. "And so tempers can flare. It’s a situation where people feel vulnerable."