Research Areas

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Computer Mediated Communication: Members of the CAPSL and colleagues have examined deception in computer-mediated communication (CMC). Studies have examined the role of communication medium (i.e., text-based, computer-mediated environment, face-to-face) and liar motivation (high vs. low) on the ability of laypersons to detect deceit. Results revealed that highly motivated liars interacting in text-based, computer-mediated environment were the most successful in deceiving their partners. Further, changes in both the liar’s and the conversational partner’s linguistic style across truthful and deceptive dyadic communication in a synchronous text-based setting also has been investigated. Although a number of differences were found in the linguistic patterns in both the liar and the partner’s language use, their linguistic patterns were not related to deception detection, suggesting that partners were unable to use this linguistic information to improve their deception detection accuracy.

Credibility Assessment/Deception Detection: A key role of judges and jurors during a trial is to decide whether various witnesses are lying or telling the truth, a task formally known as credibility assessment. How does a judge or juror know whether witnesses are providing an honest version of events or engaging in perjury by lying through their teeth? This issue is not trivial; in an adversarial system, most trials feature contradictory testimony by witnesses. Further, in many cases, there is little or no evidence other than conflicting stories told by the complainant and defendant, and decision-making is guided almost entirely by credibility assessments. For example, the judge in the Air India mass murder case (R v Malik & Bagri, 2005) concluded that the case essentially reduced to a credibility contest: “…the determination of guilt devolves to the weighing of the credibility of a number of witnesses who testified in these proceedings.” While such trials may be extreme in that their outcomes rely almost completely on credibility assessment decisions, it might be argued that credibility assessment is the “bread and butter” task for judges and juries in all trials. Members of the CAPSL have focused on behaviours that are actually associated with deception, and the manner in which others (such as judges) assess credibility.

Forensic Aspects of Memory: Members of the CAPSL have focused on memory, its distortion of real-life events and factors contributing to the creation of false memories. Dr. Porter and his team published the first paper to establish that a variety of stressful childhood events (or events that would have been stressful or traumatic had they occurred) such as a vicious animal attack or serious medical procedure could be implanted in memory (in 56% of participants). Further, CAPSL members have conducted research relevant to the controversy over memory for traumatic experiences. Are traumatic events processed and recalled in a fundamentally different way from other life events? Are they associated with significant impairment, as suggested by the traditional clinical perspective?

Personality and Violence: CAPSL Member, Dr. Zach Walsh and his team, investigate the ways in which personality, addictions, and social factors influence the risk for violent and antisocial behavior with a specific focus on Intimate Partner Violence (IPV). Ongoing IPV projects include a longitudinal investigation of heterogeneity among IPV perpetrators and victims, the validation and development of social support measures for individuals affected by partner violence, and an examination of associations between IPV and self-harm. Several studies are designed to specify associations between psychopathic personality and transgressive behaviour.

Psychopathy: Psychopathy is among the most important psychological constructs in the legal system. Criminal psychopaths appear to have a profound emotional deficit (or “no conscience” in lay terms), commit a disproportionate amount of violent behaviour in society, and are unlikely to be rehabilitated with treatment. For several years, CAPSL members have been investigating both basic and applied issues concerning the disorder.  These include: (1) different patterns of violence associated with psychopathic and non-psychopathic offenders (e.g., sexual aggression) across the “criminal career”; (2) homicide commission as a function of psychopathy; (3) the predictive validity of psychopathic traits with young offenders; and (4) the manner in which psychopaths deceive others.  A major research focus is on the role of psychopathy in dual-perpetrator and domestic homicides, and examining the presence of psychopathy and the dynamic conscience (i.e., the ability to “turn off” the conscience by otherwise prosocial individuals) in the general population.

Therapeutic, Recreational, and Problematic Substance Use: CAPSL Member, Dr. Zach Walsh and his team, focus on the use of cannabis for therapeutic and recreational purposes, and on the associations between cannabis use, mental health and addictions. Ongoing projects include: identifying barriers to access for medical cannabis; developing and implementing a standardization and certification framework for medical cannabis dispensaries; specifying the role of mood and cognition in the analgesic effects of cannabis, and investigating cannabis use trajectories among university students.