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John Jay Doctoral Students Are Recipients of National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grants

Jeff Kukucka and Amanda Nicholson, both students in the John Jay/CUNY PhD program in Psychology and Law, are the recipients of prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Dissertation Improvement Grants. Nicholson will examine "The Impact of Jury Diversity on Deliberation Quality" with her faculty mentor, Professor Margaret Kovera in the Department of Psychology, while Kukucka will complete his study titled, "An Investigation of Factors that Create and Mitigate Confirmation Bias in Judgments of Forensic Evidence," with his advisor, Distinguished Professor of Psychology Saul Kassin.

Professor Angela Crossman of the psychology department explained that the NSF Dissertation Improvement Grants provide support for “ambitious doctoral dissertation research projects, based on their scientific merit, theoretical importance and appropriateness of the methodology.” The National Science Foundation awards these grants to doctoral students to enhance the quality of dissertation research by providing funding that is not otherwise available through the university. The grants allow doctoral students to conduct off-campus data-collection and field research.

The NSF grant, said Kukucka, will allow him to study how people, particularly forensic examiners, form biases and see if that process can be interrupted. “The grant will allow me to recruit 480 individuals to participate in a mock criminal investigation,” Kukucka. “We are doing two studies: one designed to look at factors that create bias and a second that investigates how we can change the procedure, so we can protect against bias and lead people to make fewer inaccurate judgments.”

Nicholson said she plans to use the grant award to recruit community members of diverse ages and socioeconomic backgrounds for her jury sample. “Having a representative sample is important in our field in terms of having a sample jury of eligible adults of all ages and not just college students,” she said. “Our research is often criticized for just using college students as participants and not having a more representative sample.

“We are extremely proud of Jeff and Amanda,” said Professor Crossman. “Their work promises to be critically important to our understanding of the criminal justice system. Both projects examine mechanisms that underlie decision-making in the legal system. Their work will have broad implications for the field and will help to maintain John Jay's position on the cutting edge of research on psychology and the law. Their success also highlights the strength of our doctoral training and faculty in producing top-rate scholars who will make a significant impact on the field going forward.”.

“Amanda is a terrific researcher who is so deserving of this award,” added Professor Kovera. “Her research will examine whether racial and ethnic diversity on juries improves jury decision making, which is particularly important in light of recent research showing that attorneys often use jury selection to eliminate particular racial groups from jury service.”

Professor Kassin said of his doctoral student: “Jeff has long been interested in the ways in which confessions trigger a set of psychological confirmation biases—influencing not only lay witnesses, but forensic examiners across a range of domains. Focusing on handwriting, he is planning a dissertation designed to reduce these effects through the use of evidence ‘lineups.’”