Dr. Brian Bornstein's research group, which includes doctoral students pursuing the J.D. and MLS and current UNL undergraduates, applies principles from cognitive and social psychology to real-world contexts in the legal system. The bulk of this work concerns juror decision making and eyewitness identification, in both civil and criminal domains. Current civil jury projects address the effect of a plaintiff's own fault (i.e., comparative negligence) on punitive damage awards and the effect of varying instructions on what factors jurors consider when awarding compensation. Prior studies examined how much a plaintiff's injuries should be worth per day of pain and suffering and the perception of corporate defendants. Other projects span civil and criminal trials. A current criminal jury experiment is exploring the impact of graphic evidence (i.e., autopsy photos and explicit testimony about the victim's wounds) on verdicts and penalties. One program studies the impact of different kinds of expert testimony and jurors' perception of their jury service. Eyewitness memory research conducted to date includes a large-scale meta-analysis of the face recognition/eyewitness identification literature and experimental studies of specific topics (e.g., the cross-race effect). Finally, the team conducts research on procedural justice, especially people's perceptions of how the healthcare system can allocate limited resources to increase perceptions of equity.
Students on Dr. Bornstein's research team will participate in creating experimental stimulus materials, such as trial transcripts or staged videotape "crimes." REU fellows, assisting in planning and collecting data in experiments on all of the above topics, will learn about all phases of mock jury and eyewitness memory research, from conceptualizing research questions to writing up and presenting results. We anticipate minority undergraduates, especially, will make valuable contributions to all aspects of the team's research, but chiefly to projects where ethnicity is itself an important moderating variable, such as the cross-race effect in eyewitness memory and people's perceptions of justice.