Defense lawyers increasingly use genetic argument

September 2017

Pinning a crime on particular gene is a tricky and fraught business. Although certain genes have been linked to more antisocial or criminal behavior, many factors, such as their social environment, play a role in whether a person commits a crime.

But lawyers may still be inclined to claim their defendants had a genetic predisposition toward crime -- and should be held less responsible because of that.

"My sense is that geneticists are doing basic science to advance our understanding of human nature, and that attorneys who are aware of this stuff and who are very clever will come up with ways and try and morph that into a legal argument," Nicholas Scurich, associate professor of psychology and social behavior, told Popular Science.

The hurdles to adopting driverless cars

September 2017

Driverless cars pose an ethical and psychological challenge. Overall, they are undoubtedly safer than cars driven by humans, because people are bad drivers.

But public acceptance and adoption of driverless cars will face hurdles, especially since they essentially allow algorithms to make complicated moral choices. When faced with difficult moral dilemmas -- should a car sacrifice a passenger to save three pedestrians? -- humans are no longer in control.

And who decides what choices the algorithms should be programmed to make?

Azim Shariff, assistant professor of psychology and social behavior, examines such moral dilemmas, and how people respond to them, in a new commentary featured in Quartz.

Data-driven policing leads to drop in summer homicides in Los Angeles

September 2017

Innovations in data-driven policing have caused a drop in murders in Los Angeles this summer, according to Criminology, Law and Society Professor George Tita.

In June, July and August, the city saw 59 murders. In recent years, that number has been in the 70s and 80s; last year it was 82. Police have been using data to pinpoint where violence is likeliest to happen, then have assigned resources to those areas.

Should donors give to Hurricane Harvey relief, or long-term problems in developing countries?

September 2017

Thankfully, altruistic donations to the victims of Hurricane Harvey are pouring in -- as donations frequently do after such disasters.

But are those donations really the best use of donors' money? Or could donors spend their money more effectively elsewhere, by, for instance, giving to aid programs that seek to end disease or starvation in developing countries?

Jared Celniker, who is earning his Ph.D. in psychology and social behavior, examines such altruism, and whether there is a more effective method of giving in Psychology Today.

Listening, respecting and avoiding name-calling open up political dialogue

September 2017

To convince someone with a differing opinion of your point of view, it's wise to distinguish between your view of the person and your view of their opinion. Indicating that you believe the person as worthy of debate opens up the dialogue, says Peter Ditto, professor of psychology and social behavior.

What shuts people down? Name-calling, point-scoring and direct antagonism, which put people on the defensive.

Exonerations report indicates a majority of innocent people convicted of crimes are black

August 2017

The new film "Crown Heights" depicts the story of Colin Warner, an African American man who spent 21 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit.

His story isn't uncommon. A study conducted by the National Registry for Exonerations, which is hosted at the School of Social Ecology, found that nearly 47 percent of the 1,900 people exonerated as of October 2016 were black, a rate three times higher than their proportion in the general population.