Law and social psychology methods

Authored by: Rebecca Hollander-Blumoff

Routledge Handbook of Socio-Legal Theory and Methods

Print publication date:  August  2019
Online publication date:  August  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138592902
eBook ISBN: 9780429952814
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter explores research methods in an area of study that connects the most intimate of human dispute resolution processes – negotiation between two individuals – and the broadest sweep of a legal system – what is justice and what does a fair process look like? Using my own research on procedural justice and negotiation as a lens through which to consider methodology in the field of social psychology and law more broadly, this chapter discusses the benefits and drawbacks of laboratory studies, simulation studies, field studies, survey research, and behavioral coding. In particular, I will provide an in-depth discussion of the challenges inherent in survey research, video coding research, and research that attempts to link both forms of data. A familiar refrain for those engaged in survey research is that we may not be able to trust individuals’ self-report. Thus, actually observing relevant behavior may be more likely to yield trustworthy data. Yet, although it may seem that the most appealing way to get information about human behavior is to observe it directly, videotaping individuals involved in negotiation processes and then training people to watch these negotiations and code them for specific behaviors may be daunting in a variety of ways. Low interrater reliability in behavioral coding is both a feature and a challenge of such a project. Social psychological research on perception not only helps to make better sense of the ways in which parties to a negotiation may differ in their perceptions of their own and others’ behavior, but also speaks to how neutral third-party observers to the same negotiation can offer dramatically different assessments of what they themselves saw. The chapter explores the pros and cons of studying procedural justice in legal negotiation through a behavioral coding approach as well as through survey research. Ultimately, although behavioral coding can prove challenging, it can also provide rich insights and help to round out the variety of methodological approaches used in this domain.

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