Death by Expert: Cognitive Bias in the Diagnosis of Mild Intellectual Disability

Posted: 29 Jul 2020

See all articles by Amelia Hritz

Amelia Hritz

Cornell University - Law School

Sheri Lynn Johnson

Cornell Law School

John H. Blume

Cornell Law School

Date Written: July 3, 2020

Abstract

In Atkins v. Virginia, the Supreme Court held that executing individuals with intellectual disability violates the Constitution. Due to this categorical exemption, the accuracy and reliability of an intellectual disability determination is literally a matter of life or death. We tested the influence of context on mild intellectual disability diagnosis in a sample of 179 people with intellectual disability expertise. We found that experts diagnosed intellectual disability at nearly identical rates in death penalty and disability benefits cases. Men, Republicans, and people who believed intellectual disability is not an excuse for a crime were significantly less likely to diagnose intellectual disability in both types of cases. These findings suggest that in this sample, the facts of the crime did not cause the experts to refrain from diagnosing intellectual disability.

Keywords: intellectual disability, death penalty, expert

Suggested Citation

Hritz, Amelia and Johnson, Sheri Lynn and Blume, John H., Death by Expert: Cognitive Bias in the Diagnosis of Mild Intellectual Disability (July 3, 2020). Law & Psycology Review, Vol. 44, 2020, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3642698

Amelia Hritz (Contact Author)

Cornell University - Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States

Sheri Lynn Johnson

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States
607-255-6478 (Phone)
607-255-7193 (Fax)

John H. Blume

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States

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