The Cognitive and Social Psychological Bases of Bias in Forensic Mental Health Judgments

  • Tess M. S. Neal
  • Morgan Hight
  • Brian C. Howatt
  • Cassandra Hamza
Part of the Advances in Psychology and Law book series (APL, volume 3)


This chapter integrates the basic science of bias in human judgment from cognitive neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and social psychology as relevant to judgments and decisions by forensic mental health professionals. Forensic mental health professionals help courts make decisions in cases when some question of psychology pertains to the legal issue, such as in insanity cases, child custody hearings, and psychological injuries in civil suits. The legal system itself and many people involved, such as jurors, assume mental health experts are “objective” and untainted by bias. However, basic psychological science from several branches of the discipline suggests that this assumption about experts’ immunity against bias is wrong. Indeed, several empirical studies now show clear evidence of (unintentional) bias in forensic mental health experts’ judgments and decisions. In this chapter, we explain the science of how and why human judgments are susceptible to various kinds of bias. We describe dual-process theories from cognitive neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and social psychology that can help explain these biases. We review the empirical evidence to date specifically about cognitive and social psychological biases in forensic mental health judgments, weaving in related literature about biases in other types of expert judgment, with hypotheses about how forensic experts are likely affected by these biases. We close with a discussion of directions for future research and practice.


Judgment Decision Bias Forensic Dual-process Cognitive Social Heuristic Implicit 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tess M. S. Neal
    • 1
  • Morgan Hight
    • 1
  • Brian C. Howatt
    • 1
  • Cassandra Hamza
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, New College of Interdisciplinary Arts & SciencesArizona State UniversityGlendaleUSA

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