By Cindy Long
Mykol Hamilton, H.W. Stodghill, Jr. and Adele H. Stodghill Professor of Psychology, attended the June conference of the American Society of Trial Consultants (ASTC) in Chicago with her team of student researchers, Bre Olson ’19, Elayna Seago ’17 and Charlotte Sackett ’17. They presented their work in the research competition, where they took second place. The result was particularly impressive given that all of their competitors were presenting masters theses and doctoral dissertations.
“Our research was in the field of legal psychology,” Olson says. “Specifically, we were exploring sneaky ways to uncover juror biases during voir dire (the process of seating a jury to hear a case in court).”
Their research was conducted in an attempt to give lawyers and trial consultants a tool they can use in jury surveys to try to uncover hidden biases. Hamilton, herself a trial consultant and expert in change of venue surveys and the analysis of publicity’s impact in high pretrial publicity cases, is uniquely qualified to guide students in this important research.
“Our project was particularly interesting because we were able to use a local case in Danville,” Olson continues. “Community members who were familiar with the case took a survey that included two different personality variable measures. We then correlated how people’s biases towards the defendant compared with their responses on individual items from these personality measures.”
The goal of their survey is to identify the strongest one, three or five items from these personality measures that potentially reveal the most about prospective jurors. Olson, Seago and Sackett worked on this research with Hamilton during the fall and spring semesters of 2016-17 and collectively put hundreds of hours into the project by designing the study, finding community participants and analyzing their results.
“We initially did a presentation at the Research, Internships and Creative Endeavors (RICE) Symposium last spring,” Olson explains. “In this setting we were discussing research that is heavily entrenched in the study of law, with plenty of legal jargon, to an audience of non-experts.
“However, when we went to ASTC, we had to spend the first few weeks of last summer completely re-working our research to present it to an audience of experts,” she adds. “It was intimidating to discuss our research at this conference, particularly as the only undergraduate research group.”
Olson, a psychology major with a behavioral neuroscience minor, plans to pursue a career in trial consultancy. She feels this research opportunity will be invaluable to her future.
“I believe this reflects immensely on the opportunities that are present at Centre for conducting competitive and professional research at the undergraduate level,” Olson says. “Of course, we can’t thank Dr. Hamilton enough for her support and mentorship throughout the course of this project. She was incredibly enthusiastic and patient as she shared with us her legal expertise.
“To be able to attend this conference not only to learn more about the field and network but also to present our own research is a phenomenal opportunity,” she continues. “I can’t wait to continue legal psychology research with Dr. Hamilton and return to the ASTC conference next year to hopefully find continued success.”
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