Committee Updates

AP-LS Committee on Early Career Professionals

A focus on interdisciplinary work.

By Erik J. Girvan, JD, PhD, and Lauren Reba-Harrelson, PhD

In her presidential address “ Innovating Psychology & Law,” Jennifer Skeem, PhD, challenged us, as members of AP-LS, to think about the range of subject matter covered by our research on psychology and law. Even a cursory review of recent annual conference programs reveals a heavy concentration of presentations on a small number of commonly studied topic areas.1 Skeem argued, persuasively, that breadth and reach, not overspecialization, is key to our future success, and provided three suggestions for accomplishing it: Target a broader audience, tackle bigger problems, and engage in meaningfully interdisciplinary work. As the committee tasked with helping our organization support early career professionals, we write to share some potential opportunities to help us further the important goal of increasing the breadth of scholarship of in our field(s), as well as offer some suggestions about how to begin to take advantage of them.

First, we have noticed that AP-LS members are not the only ones working on psychology and law research. Legal scholars and psychologists who have innovative interdisciplinary ideas at the intersection of law and psychology that do not fit into what have become our core topic areas are proceeding without us. For example:

  • Does the law catalyze or inhibit search for a cure for Ebola, development of a faster internet, or creation of the next hit song? One of the burning contemporary issues in intellectual property, captured in NYU Law Professor Jeanne Fromer's article, “A Psychology of Intellectual Property,”2 is whether existing patent and copyright law supports or hinders creative innovation. Fromer and other like-minded researchers are drawing on basic psychological research into the different conditions under which scientific and artistic creativity flourish to guide their debates and discussions about the differences in the relevant legal standards. They are also beginning to conduct experimental work of their own on the topic. 3
  • When is a protest free speech and when is it a riot? Yale Law Professor Dan Kahan, in collaboration with well-known psychologists like Paul Slovic and Ellen Peters, regularly conducts provocative empirical studies exploring the implications of motivated reasoning for fundamental issues of Constitutional Law and Democratic theory. 4 One, a conceptual replication of the classic study They Saw a Game , shows that perceptions and impressions of police-protester interactions differ depending upon the observers' ideology and what they think the protest is about. 5
  • How is law affected by and able to address unintended discrimination ? In terms of breadth of impact, the implications of implicit attitudes and stereotypes for a range of legal doctrine ranks among the most fertile areas relevant to AP-LS, recently outpacing that of more traditional topics like eyewitness testimony. 6 Theoretical articles on “implicit bias” appear in law reviews on an extraordinary variety of topics, including employment discrimination, 7 affirmative action, 8 Terry stops, 9 self-defense, 10 prosecutorial discretion, 11 jury selection, 12 public defenders' case triage, 13 judicial decision-making, 14 criminal sentencing, 15 immigration, 16 and mediation. 17 The National Center for State Courts 18 and American Bar Association 19 have initiatives on implicit bias and it has figured prominently in major discrimination-related litigation. 20 The high level of interest among lawyers and judges, along with the real need for supporting empirical research in forensic settings, contrasts starkly with the peripheral status of the topic among AP-LS members.

The same is true for clinical psychology. In practice, psychological autopsies and child death investigations are areas in which clinical psychologists can play unique role in collaboration with various types of forensic scientists and public servants. While the majority of coroners or medical examiners offices do not conduct psychological autopsies, the Los Angeles Department of the Coroner is an example of one office that has long employed the behavioral science expertise of postdoctoral forensic fellows and staff as consultants in equivocal or contested death investigations. Moreover, as part of broad-based prevention efforts, clinical and forensic psychologists often serve on boards conducting retrospective investigations following a child's death. There have been periods in which discussion of psychological autopsies have emerged in forensic psychological and psychiatric literature, including both criticism and lauding of the practice. 21 Moreover, groups such as the American Association of Suicidology have developed trainings associated with how to conduct a psychological autopsy. 22 However, ongoing discussions on development of best practices and explore various applications of the use of behavioral science methodology in retrospective analysis of deaths suggest that a great deal still needs to be done.

Similarly, other forensic organizations, such as the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS), often feature presentations from a broad range of scientific disciplines. For example, at the 2014 AAFS Annual Meeting, forensic neuropsychologist, Dan Martell (the current president of AAFS and first forensic psychologist to serve this role), discussed a case example of an evaluation conducted by a major political figure being tried for war crimes through the United Nations International Court of Justice.23 Colleagues from Turkey, Italy, the United Arab Emirates and other countries also presented on various topics related to forensic mental health issues in their respective countries. 24 While some were case examples rather than laboratory or quantitative research studies, the diverse insights created fertile opportunities for collaboration to further forensic scholarship from both a cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural standpoint. The availability of such alternatives may lead talented young scholars away from AP-LS or cause those that do join our organization to find membership less beneficial to their careers.

Our second, related observation concerns the need for more opportunities for interaction and learning within AP-LS. Researchers at the intersection of psychology and law unquestionably have a lot to offer, including rigorous methodological training and theoretical expertise. Expanding our audience, exploring a larger set of problems, and developing new collaborative relationships, however, will not occur if we prioritize speaking to ourselves about the things we know. To the contrary, it requires a top down commitment to welcoming and valuing presenters who do not sound or think like us. Law faculty, lawyers, judges, medical doctors, and the like offer a different perspective, critical substantive expertise, and a sense for where the most pressing legal policy debates are headed and could be informed by our work. When we do not solicit or accept a critical mass of their papers for our conferences or avoid their talks when they do come because the work is not sufficiently empirical, we pass up the opportunity to learn what we do not know and to offer what we do know to someone who might benefit from it.

Third and finally is making sure that we are open to exploration in our advising and mentorship. One of our senior members, a lawyer, recalled presenting on a panel at AP-LS a number of years ago about what researchers could do to help practicing attorneys in litigation. After the talk, many of the more junior audience members came up to tell him that they wished they could to the sort of research that the panel spoke about. Unfortunately, their PhD advisors had restricted them to the small range of favored topics. That is, perhaps, a recipe for producing numerous publications, but, in 20 to 30 years' time, it can also lead to a professional culture focused on a small number of familiar research areas. Early career professionals cannot explore truly new ideas, problems, or professional relationships without the support, encouragement, and professional cover from their advisors, mentors, and senior colleagues.

In raising issues noted by early career professionals as possible opportunities for broadening and enriching the scope of psychology and law, we aim to encourage a dialogue between those at all levels of AP-LS membership and those with colleagues not currently involved in the organization, but engaged in research that falls within its mission. We urge all of those in our field to take an interdisciplinary, creative, and proactive approach to defining innovation in psychology and the law. Only by dong so will opportunities emerge for young professionals to find new collaborators in specialties not traditionally represented within AP-LS, and for the organization to grow through exciting new forms of scholarly cross-pollination.


New Orleans , Portland , Miami , Vancouver.

2 Fromer, J. C. (2010). Psychology of Intellectual Property, A.  Nw. UL Rev.104, 1441.

3Buccafusco, C. J., Burns, Z. C., Fromer, J. C., & Sprigman, C. J. (2014). Experimental Tests of Intellectual Property Laws' Creativity Thresholds.  Texas Law Review9; see also Buccafusco, C., & Sprigman, C. (2010). Valuing Intellectual Property: An Experiment.  Cornell L. Rev.96, 1; Mandel, G. N. (2011). To promote the creative process: intellectual property law and the psychology of creativity.  Notre Dame L. Rev.86, 1999; Reuveni, E. (2013). Copyright, Neuroscience, and Creativity. Ala. L. Rev., 64, 735.

4 Kahan, D. M. (2011). Neutral principles, motivated cognition, and some problems for constitutional law.  Harv. L. Rev.125 , 1; Kahan, D. M., Peters, E., Wittlin, M., Slovic, P., Ouellette, L. L., Braman, D., & Mandel, G. (2012). The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks.  Nature Climate Change2 (10), 732-735.

5 Kahan, D. M., Hoffman, D. A., Braman, D., & Evans, D. (2012). They saw a protest: Cognitive illiberalism and the speech-conduct distinction.  Stan. L. Rev, 64, 851.

6 Westlaw's Law Reviews & Journals database contains 489 articles published in the last three years on “eyewitness testimony,” 209 of which also contain the word “psychology.” In the same period, 572 articles were published referencing “implicit bias,” 295 of which contain the word “psychology.”

7 Krieger, L. H., & Fiske, S. T. (2006). Behavioral realism in employment discrimination law: Implicit bias and disparate treatment.  California Law Review, 997-1062.

8 Kang, J., & Banaji, M. R. (2006). Fair measures: A behavioral realist revision of" affirmative action".  California Law Review, 1063-1118.

9 Richardson, L. S. (2010). Arrest Efficiency and the Fourth Amendment.  Minn. L. Rev.95, 2035.

10 Benforado, A. (2010). Quick on the draw: Implicit bias and the second amendment.  Oregon Law Review89 (1), 1.

11Smith, R. J., & Levinson, J. D. (2011). Impact of Implicit Racial Bias on the Exercise of Prosecutorial Discretion, The.  Seattle UL Rev.35, 795.

12 Page, A. (2005). Batson's blind-spot: Unconscious stereotyping and the peremptory challenge.  BUL Rev.85 , 155.

13 Richardson, L. S., & Goff, P. A. (2013). Implicit Racial Bias in Public Defender Triage.  Yale Law Journal122, 13-24.

14 Rachlinski, J. J., Johnson, S. L., Wistrich, A. J., & Guthrie, C. (2008). Does unconscious racial bias affect trial judges.  Notre Dame L. Rev.84, 1195.

15 Ramirez, M. K. (2008). Into the Twilight Zone: Informing Judicial Discretion in Federal Sentencing.  Drake L. Rev.57, 591.

16 Marouf, F. E. (2010). Implicit Bias and Immigration Courts.  New Eng. L. Rev. , 45 , 417.

17 Izumi, C. (2010). Implicit bias and the illusion of mediator neutrality.  Wash. UJL & Pol'y34 , 71.



20 Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, 131 S. Ct. 2541 (2011)

21 Litman, R. E., Curphey, T. J., Shneidman, E.,Farberow, N., & N. Tabachnick. (1963). Investigations of equivocal suicides. Journal of the American Medical Association, 184, 924-929; Shneidman, E. S. (1994). The psychological autopsy. American Psychologist, 4, 75–76; Selkin, J. (1994). Psychological autopsy: Scientific psychohistory or clinical intuition? American Psychologist, 49, 74–75; Hjelmeland, H., Dieserud, G., Dyregrov, K., Knizek, B. L., & Leenaars, A. A. (2012). Psychological autopsy studies as diagnostic tools: are they methodologically flawed?  Death studies, 36, 605-626.

22 Retrieved August 29, 2014, from

23 Martell, D. (2014, February). Measuring the Mind of a War Criminal: Behind the Scenes on an Assignment for the United Nations International Court of Justice in the Hague. Paper presented as the 66 th annual meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, Seattle, WA.

24 Proceedings from the 2014 American Academy of Forensic Sciences 66 th Annual Scientific Meeting, p. 196-7.