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Ideology, Psychology, and Law$
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Jon Hanson

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199737512

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199737512.001.0001

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Two Social Psychologists' Reflections on Situationism and the Criminal Justice System

Two Social Psychologists' Reflections on Situationism and the Criminal Justice System

(p.612) Chapter 17 Two Social Psychologists' Reflections on Situationism and the Criminal Justice System
Ideology, Psychology, and Law

Lee Ross

Donna Shestowsky

Oxford University Press

The criminal justice system relies on lay notions of culpability that are incompatible with contemporary social psychology, and arguably with reasonable standards of fairness and justice. A given wrongdoer’s actions are viewed in that field less as the product of stable disposition or “character” and more that of situation factors and their cumulative consequences than either lay or legal conceptions acknowledge. Moreover, the legal distinctions made between relevant and irrelevant mitigating factors are ones that social psychologists would deem uncompelling and even incoherent. While recognizing the impediments to dramatic systemic change, and the important role that public approval plays in maintaining the criminal justice system, this chapter questions whether justice can truly be served when the law’s theory of culpability is so fundamentally at odds with the lessons of social scientific research. It also considers the implications of a more enlightened view.

Keywords:   character, situational factors, justice, social psychology, culpability, cumulative consequences, naïve realism

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