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Journal: Behavioral sciences & the law


Epigenetics, a field that links genetics and environmental influences on the expression of phenotypic traits, offers to increase our understanding of the development and trajectory of disease and psychological disorders beyond that thought of traditional genetic research and behavioural measures. By extension, this new perspective has implications for risk and risk management of antisocial behaviour where there is a biological component, such as psychopathy. Psychopathy is a personality disorder associated with repeat displays of antisocial behaviour, and is associated with the disproportionate imposition of harm on communities. Despite advances in our knowledge of psychopathic individuals, the construct remains complex and is hampered by a lack of integration across a range of fundamental domains. The clinical and forensic research on psychopathy is brought into conversation with the emerging field of epigenetics to highlight critical issues of (1) clinical definition and diagnosis, (2) assessment, (3) aetiology of psychopathic phenotypes, and (4) treatment and rehabilitation approaches. Broader ethical and legal questions of the role of epigenetic mechanisms in the management of psychopathy beyond the criminal justice arena are also outlined. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Concepts: Psychology, Gene, Gene expression, Evolution, Mental disorder, Antisocial personality disorder, Conduct disorder, Psychopathy


Children’s unwillingness to report abuse places them at risk for re-victimization, and interviewers who do not respond sensitively to that unwillingness may increase the likelihood that victims will not disclose abuse. Interviewer support and children’s reluctance were examined on a turn-by-turn basis using sequential analyses in 199 forensic interviews of 3- to 13-year-olds who alleged maltreatment. Half of the children were interviewed using the Revised Protocol that emphasized rapport-building (RP), the others using the Standard National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Protocol (SP). When using the RP, interviewers provided proportionally more support than when using the SP, but even when using the RP they did not specifically provide support when children expressed reluctance. The RP promoted immediate cooperation when reluctant utterances were met with support, however, suggesting that supportive statements were valuable. The findings enhance our understanding of children’s willingness to participate in investigative interviews and the means through which interviewers can foster the comfort and well-being of young witnesses. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Concepts: Interview


Few clinical practices are as important for simultaneously augmenting patient safety and mitigating legal risk as the judicious evaluation and stratification of a patient’s risk for suicide, proportionate clinical actions based thereon taken by the healthcare provider, and contemporaneous documentation of the foregoing. In this article, we draw from our combined decades of multidisciplinary experience as a clinical psychologist, forensic psychiatrist, medical malpractice attorney, and clinical psychology trainee to discuss the documentation of suicide risk assessment and management as a conduit to patient safety and legal risk mitigation. We additionally highlight documentation as a core clinical competency across disciplines and note areas of improvement, such as increased training, to bolster documentation practices.


Analyses from the National Comorbidity Study Replication provide the first nationally representative estimates of the co-occurrence of impulsive angry behavior and possessing or carrying a gun among adults with and without certain mental disorders and demographic characteristics. The study found that a large number of individuals in the United States self-report patterns of impulsive angry behavior and also possess firearms at home (8.9%) or carry guns outside the home (1.5%). These data document associations of numerous common mental disorders and combinations of angry behavior with gun access. Because only a small proportion of persons with this risky combination have ever been involuntarily hospitalized for a mental health problem, most will not be subject to existing mental health-related legal restrictions on firearms resulting from a history of involuntary commitment. Excluding a large proportion of the general population from gun possession is also not likely to be feasible. Behavioral risk-based approaches to firearms restriction, such as expanding the definition of gun-prohibited persons to include those with violent misdemeanor convictions and multiple DUI convictions, could be a more effective public health policy to prevent gun violence in the population. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Concepts: Psychology, Mental disorder, Psychiatry, Firearm, Gun, Involuntary commitment, Gun politics, Open carry


An archival descriptive study of public figure attackers in the United States between 1995 and 2015 was undertaken. Fifty-six incidents were identified, primarily through exhaustive internet searches, composed of 58 attackers and 58 victims. A code book was developed which focused upon victims, offenders, pre-attack behaviors including direct threats, attack characteristics, post-offense and other outcomes, motivations and psychological abstracts. The average interrater agreement for coding of bivariate variables was 0.835 (intraclass correlation coefficient). The three most likely victim categories were politicians, judges, and athletes. Attackers were males, many with a psychiatric disorder, most were grandiose, and most had both a violent and nonviolent criminal history. The known motivations for the attacks were often angry and personal, the most common being dissatisfaction with a judicial or other governmental process (23%). In only one case was the primary motivation to achieve notoriety. Lethality risk during an attack was 55%. Collateral injury or death occurred in 29% of the incidents. Only 5% communicated a direct threat to the target beforehand. The term “publicly intimate figure” is introduced to describe the sociocultural blurring of public and private lives among the targets, and its possible role in some attackers' perceptions and motivations. Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Concepts: Psychology, United States, English language, Covariance and correlation, Attack, Motivation, Inter-rater reliability, Attack!


Alibis play a critical role in the criminal justice system. Yet research on the process of alibi generation and evaluation is still nascent. Indeed, similar to other widely investigated psychological phenomena in the legal system - such as false confessions, historical claims of abuse, and eyewitness memory - the basic assumptions underlying alibi generation and evaluation require closer empirical scrutiny. To date, the majority of alibi research investigates the social psychological aspects of the process. We argue that applying our understanding of basic human memory is critical to a complete understanding of the alibi process. Specifically, we challenge the use of alibi inconsistency as an indication of guilt by outlining the “cascading effects” that can put innocents at risk for conviction. We discuss how normal encoding and storage processes can pose problems at retrieval, particularly for innocent suspects that can result in alibi inconsistencies over time. Those inconsistencies are typically misunderstood as intentional deception, first by law enforcement, affecting the investigation, then by prosecutors affecting prosecution decisions, and finally by juries, ultimately affecting guilt judgments. Put differently, despite the universal nature of memory inconsistencies, a single error can produce a cascading effect, rendering an innocent individual’s alibi, ironically, proof of guilt. Copyright © 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Concepts: Memory, Law, Crime, Criminal law, Criminal justice, Storage, Police, Federal Bureau of Investigation


A recommended component of suicide prevention is encouraging at-risk individuals to voluntarily and temporarily reduce access to firearms and other lethal methods. Yet delivering counseling on the topic can be difficult, given the political sensitivity of firearm discussions. To support such counseling, we sought to identify recommended framing and content of messages about reducing firearm access for suicide prevention. Through qualitative interviews with firearm owners and enthusiasts, we identified key points for use in framing (identity as a gun owner, trust, voluntary and temporary storage, and context and motivation) and specific content (preference for “firearm” over “gun,” and legal issues such as background checks for transfers). These findings build on prior work and should enhance efforts to develop and deliver effective, acceptable counseling and-ultimately-prevent firearm suicide.


This study investigated the effect of cost-benefit salience on simulated criminal punishment judgments. In two vignette-based survey experiments, we sought to identify how the salience of decision costs influences laypeople’s punishment judgments. In both experiments (N1  = 109; N2  = 398), undergraduate participants made sentencing judgments with and without explicit information about the direct, material costs of incarceration. Using a within-subjects design, Experiment 1 revealed that increasing the salience of incarceration costs mitigated punishments. However, when costs were not made salient, punishments were no lower than those made when the costs were externalized (i.e., paid by a third party). Experiment 2 showed the same pattern using a between-subjects design. We conclude that, when laypeople formulate sentencing attitudes without exposure to the costs of the punishment, they are prone to discount those costs, behaving as if punishment is societally cost-free. However, when cost information is salient, they utilize it, suggesting the operation of a genuine, albeit labile, punishment preference. We discuss the implications of these findings for psychological theories of decision making and for sentencing policy, including the degree of transparency about the relevant costs of incarceration during the decision process.


Identification is one of eight warning behaviors-superordinate patterns of accelerating risk-that are theorized to correlate with targeted violence, and have some empirical validation. It is characterized by one or more of five characteristics: pseudo-commando behavior, evidence of a warrior mentality, a close association with weapons or other military or law enforcement paraphernalia, wanting to imitate and often surmount previous attackers or assassins, or believing oneself to be an agent to advance a particular cause or belief system. The authors briefly explore the history of the psychology of identification, its current usage, and its application to threat assessment. Four cases are used to illustrate identification as both a process and a product, and a likely motive for targeted violence in some subjects. Its operational relevance for threat assessment is suggested. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Concepts: Psychology, Critical thinking, Truth, Faith, John Wiley & Sons, Graphic design, Police, William H. Wiley


For decades, our ability to predict suicide has remained at near-chance levels. Machine learning has recently emerged as a promising tool for advancing suicide science, particularly in the domain of suicide prediction. The present review provides an introduction to machine learning and its potential application to open questions in suicide research. Although only a few studies have implemented machine learning for suicide prediction, results to date indicate considerable improvement in accuracy and positive predictive value. Potential barriers to algorithm integration into clinical practice are discussed, as well as attendant ethical issues. Overall, machine learning approaches hold promise for accurate, scalable, and effective suicide risk detection; however, many critical questions and issues remain unexplored.