Emotional evidence and jurors' judgments: The promise of neuroscience for informing psychology and law

Jessica M. Salerno, Bette L. Bottoms

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


This article is a review of psychological and neuroscience research addressing how juror decision making is influenced by emotion elicited from potentially disturbing evidence such as gruesome autopsy photographs, victim impact statements, and information about a defendant's tragic personal history presented as mitigating evidence. We review (a) converging evidence suggesting that the presence versus absence of such evidence results in more punitive juror judgments, (b) social cognition theories that provide potential explanations for these effects, and (c) neuroscience research aimed at understanding the role of emotion in moral judgments by identifying how brain activity is affected by emotion-eliciting stimuli. We argue that neuroimaging evidence showing that emotional stimuli cause heightened emotion and decreased effortful cognitive processing is relevant in understanding jurors' increased punitiveness after being exposed to emotional evidence, and in turn relevant to debates about the admissibility of emotional evidence in courts of law. Ultimately, we argue for more ecologically valid psychological research to clarify these important issues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)273-296
Number of pages24
JournalBehavioral Sciences and the Law
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Law


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