The Situationist

Teaching Law and Psychology?

Posted by Adam Benforado on February 1, 2012

As Jon Hanson and I discuss in a chapter of the newly released book, Psychology, Ideology, and Law, within legal academia, there is a long history of resistance to incorporating insights from the mind sciences.  Particularly, within the last ten or fifteen years, however, there have been great advances on the scholarly front.  Every day, I seem to come across more articles and more law professors eagerly taking up evidence from neuroscience and psychology and applying it to legal problems and theories.

With more law and mind science student groups, blogs, and conferences cropping up all the time, the influence and reach of the field seems to be expanding at a remarkable rate.  But how much is the latest research finding its way into the law school classroom?

On Wednesday, my colleagues and I approved what amounts to our third dedicated law and mind sciences course (Law and Mind Sciences, Mental Health Law, and Behavioral Science and the Law).  I teach Law and Mind Sciences and Don Bersoff, the incoming president of the American Psychological Association and the director of our joint JD/PhD Law and Psychology Program, teaches the other two.  Although the course titles might suggest quite a bit of overlap in coverage, there is little if any, and we have had high enrollment.

It leads me to wonder, whether Drexel is an anomaly or whether the experiences at other schools are similar.  Are courses in the psychology/neuroscience of law being offered at your school?  I occasionally get emails from folks asking if I might share my syllabus or hear law professors tell me about how they bring implicit racial bias research into their employment discrimination class or work on risk perceptions into environmental law, but I’m interested whether dedicated courses are emerging.  If you teach one, know of one, or are thinking of teaching one, I’d love to hear about it!

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3 Responses to “Teaching Law and Psychology?”

  1. Tamara Piety said

    Adam – I taught a course last semester called Law and Mind Sciences. I used your syllabus (thank you) as a starting off point and then did a few things differently. I would be happy to share my final syllabus with you. It was a small class, but all our class are small given we have a 11/1 student/teacher ratio.

  2. Robert Rocklin said

    Last spring and again this spring, I am adjunct teaching a two-credit course at the University of Oregon School of Law entitled “Law and Social Science.” As an old lawyer and relatively new PhD student in psychology here, I tend to lean toward law and psychology issues, but I like to think that it is a bit broader than that. With only two hours per week, it is a challenge to choose what to leave out.

  3. Thanks for the notes!

    Tamara, I would definitely be interested if you added anything that you thought the students really enjoyed.

    Robert, yes, I imagine that’s tough to know what to cut (I have a hard enough time fitting in the topics I want to cover in just psychology and neuroscience).

    I heard from a couple of other folks by email and would love to hear from anyone else in the know!

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