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University of Nebraska Public Policy Center

Calibration in Court: Jurors’ Use of Scientific Information

As information becomes increasingly accessible, people are processing more, and more complex, information than ever before. Often this information contains, or is based on, scientific research. The validity and reliability of various kinds of scientific information varies widely, and laypeople are poorly equipped to differentiate between weak and strong scientific information when making decisions—that is, they are not well calibrated in their use of scientific information. One situation in which laypeople frequently encounter scientific information is in jury trials. This project consists of two jury simulation studies that will examine jurors’ (as individuals) and juries’ (as deliberating groups) sensitivity to strong versus weak scientific information presented in court. The project will also investigate mock jurors’ use of scientific evidence depending on different ways that it is presented to them, individual differences among jurors, and trial safeguards. The research will address the effect of these factors on mock jurors’ comprehension of the scientific evidence, verdicts, perceptions of witnesses, and deliberation behavior. In the absence of jurors’ and juries’ abilities to base their decisions on a reasonable understanding of relevant scientific information, their ability to make well-informed decisions may be jeopardized, thereby raising the risk of unjust outcomes.

The results of this multidisciplinary, multi-method research project will address fundamental questions about how humans reason with and make inferences and decisions based on the quality of relevant scientific data. The project has broad and highly positive societal impact with the potential to improve the way courts use science to inform laypeople’s decisions.

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