Interview: Kristi Lockhart – Associate Research Scientist, Yale Psychology Department

By Shanaz Chowdhery, From Volume 2, Issue 2

Dr. Kristi Lockhart is currently an Associate Research Scientist and Lecturer in Yale’s Psy- chology Department and the Associate Master of Morse College. She is also a licensed clinical psychologist who received her graduate degrees in psychology from Stanford University and the Uni- versity of Pennsylvania. During her time at Yale, she has taught courses on abnormal psychology, psychopathology and the family, depression and, most recently, psychology and the law. Her experience in mental health has informed her understanding of the law through the special lens of psychology.

1. You do not have a law degree but you teach an entire course on law and psychology. Why did you intermingle the two? When I was practicing clinical psychology, I had to make recommendations to the court about child custody, about which parent should have the child and which parent should not. I immediately realized some of the bases we make our clinical judgments on are not that reliable or valid, yet judg- es essentially followed your recommendation. As I became a clinician and started working in the field of mental health, I became aware of many legal issues that clinical psycholo- gists have to deal with.
2. Based on your experience in teaching psychology and the law, how does psychology influence racial pro- filing? Can it ever be justified as a form of policing? [As Stanford professors R. Richard Banks, Jennifer Eber- hardt, and Lee Ross] have argued, it is not justified if you are in a white neighborhood and you are racially profiling people so that every time somebody African American or Hispanic or some different ethnic group enters that neigh- borhood you immediately stop them and search them. That is clearly unjustified. But they would say, if you are in an African American neighborhood and there is a higher instance of crime in that neighborhood, and it tends to be African-American-on-African-American crime, and you
are not racial profiling, then maybe you are doing a dis- service to the individuals in that neighborhood. Maybe the people who are the most victimized – if you do not racially profile – are going to be victimized the most, again. They are going to be the people hurt most by that if you stop it entirely.
3. In the context of racial profiling, do you think it is possible to be psychologically impartial, or do experiences lead you to believe certain stereotypes exist?
The more experienced you are, the less biased you prob- ably are, especially if you have gone through training that has made you really aware of the factors that you should be looking at. So I think if you train people to be aware of what the important behaviors are that you should be weigh- ing in deciding whether you want to stop this person or not, then I think you can become less biased. Can you get rid of it entirely? I do not know. But those people who go through more training have more experience.
4. Are children reliable witnesses?
They can be. They are probably not always reliable but they certainly can be. And it probably depends on the person who has prepared them to give their testimony, as to how re- liable they are. That was something that the Supreme Court just looked at – eyewitness testimony, whether you can re- ally count on somebody to be a reliable eyewitness, and the question of whether they should institute safeguards to pro- tect people against unreliable eyewitness testimony.1 And the Supreme Court decided that we do not need additional safeguards. The fact that the Supreme Court was not will- ing to say, “Yeah, we really do need to have expert testi- mony about how unreliable eyewitness testimony can be” was disappointing to people. But then we have the problem of one-on-one crimes, where we have only one person who is the eyewitness. You do not necessarily want to weaken the strength of their testimony when they are really sure. The law is focused on the individual case, and in each individual case, the question is if you can you show that this person was unreliable witness. I guess they do not want to general- ize.

5. Speaking of juries, there is much talk about how they unreliable they can be in “Psychology and the Law.” Can you talk a little bit more about that? I think they can certainly sometimes decide just on the basis of their emotions. They can just disregard the law and the facts of the case and go for nullification. Sometimes that can benefit people and sometimes that can hurt people. But ac- tually I think juries generally try to do the best they can. I think the one thing I would emphasize again is that there are so few jury trials. Jurors do try to listen and use the facts, and try to follow the instructions as best as they can. So maybe it is the best part of our legal system – the juries – because even when they are presented with scientific information, they are sometimes even better than judges and lawyers at recognizing the lack of a control group or another problem in a study.
6. What can you tell me about Jared Loughner’s psy- chological influences to commit the shooting in Ari- zona?2 Jared Loughner is somebody who probably did have delu- sions, and he probably did have some elaborate thing worked
out in his mind for why he needed to kill these people, so I think he probably was suffering from schizophrenia. And those are the cases that are extremely sad because the con- sequences of his behavior are huge, and yet he probably did not understand what he was doing at some level. And I feel very bad for his family because I am sure they are being os- tracized and blamed for this – “why were you not aware of this?” – but I think often when you have severe mental illness in a family, people are in a state of mind that it is hard for them to recognize it, and they think it is just a stage he is go- ing through. But 20 or 21 are an age when you see the onset of these psychotic disorders, and it sometimes happens very slowly.
7. How does Loughner’s case differ from the one of Anders Breivik in Norway?3 Well, in all the European countries, sentences are much shorter, so it is much less severe than in the United States. The way in which prisoners are treated in other countries is very different. The big thing in the U.S. is retribution; we want to get back, people have to suffer for what they have done. So it is very likely that Loughner will be given life in prison. Maybe he will end up in one of those Supermax- type facilities, because he is going to have a very hard time following the rules. So there is a difference. The person in Norway probably suffers from a mental disorder and he will serve maybe twenty years in a more benign environ- ment.

8. To go back to Jared Loughner, do you think that the insanity defense accomplishes what it is meant to do? Is it a protection for those most vulnerable? No. The insanity defense does not work the way it should, because those people who have severe mental disorders en- gage in often horrendous crimes because they really are de- lusional. They get command hallucinations that tell them to shoot or destroy other people. The insanity defense does not protect those people, because the public often sees it as a way for them to get out of a punishment they should not be able to escape.
What really needs to happen to these people is that they be treated. It is very easy for people in this country to develop a psychotic disorder and go for a long time without being treat- ed if they are not acting out. And it is harder to institutional- ize people even if they are showing symptoms of psychosis. They should not have to act out to get help. They should get it beforehand.
9. Is our justice system accomplishing what it should be? No, because I think if you look at the people who leave pris- ons, they generally do not find employment. There is a rela- tively high recidivism rate because they really have no other options in their lives. And oftentimes anti-social behavior can make criminals out of juveniles because they get labeled, they learn criminal behavior, and they are exposed to deviant peers while they are incarcerated or while they are in a juve- nile facility. So rather than being helpful and rehabilitative, we are actually producing more criminals.
10. What is the most important thing you think stu- dents can get out of taking your class on “Psychol- ogy and the Law”? I think it gives you an appreciation and a better understand- ing of people who have been through the system, and how difficult the system can be on people. It may give you some respect for the system as well, but also may make you aware of the problems, particularly for the people who serve on ju- ries. And maybe those problems can be addressed by this new generation of leaders and Yale students.

1. Perry v. New Hampshire, No. 10-8974 2. Jared Lee Loughner, an Arizona resident, shot and killed six people on January 8, 2011, and left 14 more injured, among them U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. 3. Anders Behring Breivik, a Norwegian national, disguised him- self as a policeman and rounded up young participants of the Workers’ Youth League during their camp meeting on the island of Utøya, Norway on July 22, 2011. He shot and killed 69 people. That same day, Breivik exploded a car bomb in front of the Nor- wegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s office, killing eight and injuring 92.

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