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PULSE Lab

Working to Strengthen Our Psychological Understanding of Legal System Encounters

About

Working to Strengthen Our Psychological Understanding of Legal System Encounters (PULSE)

Here in the PULSE Lab, our research focuses on improving our Psychological Understanding of Legal System Encounters. We use psychological theory to understand criminal justice and legal issues, particularly miscarriages of justice that affect marginalized and vulnerable populations. Our goals are to contribute to social science and disseminate relevant results to other researchers, front-line professionals, and lawmakers to improve public policy. Given these goals, we investigate (a) how stereotyping and racism generate racial and ethnic disparities in criminal legal contexts, (b) the developmental appropriateness of legal responses to juvenile offenders, and (c) myriad issues related to victims of abuse and trauma. Our interdisciplinary approach generates empirical knowledge on important real-world issues with the dual goals of advancing psychological science and improving equity in law, policy, and practice.

The PULSE Lab is also a great place for graduate students who want to begin their own careers in research, as well as undergraduate students who want to learn about research and prepare for graduate school.

Members and Collaborators

PULSE Lab Director

Cynthia Najdowski

Cynthia Najdowski, PhD
[email protected]

 

Cynthia Najdowski is an Associate Professor and Director of the Social & Personality Psychology Doctoral Program in the Department of Psychology at the University at Albany. Her research explores how social psychological phenomena shape criminal justice interactions in ways that produce miscarriages of justice for racial and ethnic minority group members, women, and children. Her previous work has been recognized with several national grants and awards and published in journals such as American Psychologist, Law and Human Behavior, and Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. She has co-edited two books: Criminal Juries in the 21st Century, which reviews contemporary challenges in the criminal jury system, and Children as Victims, Witnesses, and Offenders, which examines children’s experiences within various legal systems.

 

Research Assistants
Graduate Research Assistants

Melissa Anderson

Melissa Anderson is a third-year graduate student in the Social and Personality Psychology PhD program. She has been involved in various research projects regarding racial issues in the criminal legal system, including assessments of stereotype threat in calls for police intervention and examinations of racial differences in perceptions of freedom in police encounters.

Melissa presented these studies at the American Psychology-Law Society and American Psychological Association conferences in 2023. She also has written multiple articles as part of the "Judicial Notebook" column published in APA's Monitor on Psychology, focusing on the impact of racist symbols in courtrooms, the Fourth Amendment's failure to protect racially marginalized individuals, and the Supreme Court's inconsistencies in matters of racial justice. Melissa is the campus representative for American Psychology-Law Society and a part of the student editorial board for their journal of Law and Human Behavior.

Prior to joining the team at UAlbany, Melissa earned her master's degree in Psychological Science from SUNY New Paltz, where she was involved in research on intergroup relations, social perception, and motivation (for which she co-authored a paper published in the Journal of Educational Psychology) and wrote her thesis on implicit bias and issues of accountability.
 

Srishti Katuri

Srishti Katuri is a first-year graduate student in the Social and Personality Psychology PhD program. After completing her undergraduate education from SUNY-Stony Brook, she recently earned her master's degree in psychological science from California State University, Northridge. Her thesis broadly explored racial and gender bias in group decision-making in the context of jury deliberations. She is keen on investigating racial biases in criminal legal systems with the intention of bridging the gap between scientific research and public policy.
 

Charlotte Parque

Charlotte Parque is a graduate student in the Social and Personality Psychology PhD program at the University at Albany. She received her bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and Music from Santa Clara University in 2022. Throughout her time as an undergraduate student, she gained interest in studying issues regarding social justice and the legal system through a social psychological lens. In her free time, she enjoys playing music, cooking, and enjoying local scenery. 

Undergraduate Research Assistants

Reagan Boera

Reagan Boera is a senior double majoring in Human Development and Psychology. She was accepted into the CAS School Psychology graduate program last spring here at UAlbany. Reagan is interested in the effects discrimination and biases have on systems and the individuals functioning in those systems. She is also on the Middle Earth Crisis Hotline, through which she provides short-term crisis intervention to the Albany community. In her free time, Reagan enjoys reading and exploring the Capital Region.
 

Tayia Boyd

Tayia is a senior majoring in Psychology with a minor in Legal Studies. She is hoping to get a master's degree in Forensic Psychology and a PhD in Clinical Psychology. While she is unsure exactly where she wants to work in the future, Tayia thinks working in a federal agency would be the place she can thrive the most. Tayia is interested in psychology and how it intersects with the law and criminal offenses. She spends her free time with the Klosure dance team.
 

Daniel Nisoff

Daniel Nisoff is an undergraduate student at University at Albany, SUNY, double majoring in Psychology and Human Development with a Counseling concentration. He is planning to apply to UAlbany's combined program and earn an MS in Mental Health Counseling, as well as gethis Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. Daniel is interested in the effects of ostracization on mental illness. When away from scholastic duties, he likes collecting records and playing chess.
 

Amanda Scarlata

Amanda is a senior undergraduate student majoring in Criminal Justice and Psychology and has been a research assistant for the PULSE Lab for a year. She is graduating in 2023 and plans on pursuing a master's degree in Forensic Psychology and a PhD in Clinical Psychology. Amanda is the secretary of Students Stopping Trafficking of People, an ambassador for undergraduate research and an Intern at the Youth Justice Institute at the University at Albany. She is planning on studying rehabilitation for juvenile delinquents. Amanda is conducting her senior honors thesis with Dr. Najdowski on the effect of law enforcement interactions on college students.
 

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is a recent UAlbany graduate who majored in Psychology and minored in Sociology and Korean studies. She has always been fascinated by psychology due to its ever-evolving nature as more information is discovered. Two of their favorite fields of psychology are social psychology and clinical psychology and thus she aspires to get their PhD in social or clinical psychology. She is currently enrolled in SNHU’s MA psychology program as a stepping stone to that goal. Besides their fascination with psychology, she has various hobbies such as drawing, reading, and Japanese sword.
 

Ethan Snowball

Ethan Snowball is an undergraduate student at UAlbany majoring in Psychology and English. He is in his third year and plans to get his PhD in clinical psychology. Ethan has a general interest in psychology and hopes to know more about the human mind. On his off time, he volunteers with the Warren County Historian to learn more about local history.
 

Jessie Yuan

Jessie Yuan hopes to make a meaningful difference in the world by helping people reach their potential, whether on an individual or systems level, through leadership, research, and counseling. She is an undergraduate student of psychology minoring in educational studies and sociology. She plans to pursue a master's degree in Mental Health Counseling, followed by licensure to practice as a therapist. Beyond assisting the PULSE lab, Jessie is a Middle Earth Crisis Hotline worker, peer advisor for the Academic Support Center, and president of the UA Tango Club. They also enjoy journaling, arts and crafts, and skating.

Collaborators
Current Collaborators

Maggie Stevenson, PhD
Kenyon University
Department of Psychology

Hayley Cleary, PhD
Virginia Commonwealth University
School of Government and Public Affairs

Phillip Atiba Solomon, PhD
Yale University
Department of Psychology

Elise E. Fenn, PhD
California State University, Northridge
Department of Psychology

Robert Worden, PhD
University at Albany
School of Criminal Justice

Iris Blandón-Gitlin, PhD
California State University, Fullerton
Department of Psychology

Bette Bottoms, PhD
University of Illinois Chicago
Department of Psychology

Kim Bernstein, PhD
New York State Senate

Lab Alumni
Former Graduate Research Assistants

Catherine Bonventre

Meagen Hildebrand

Melissa Noel

Rebecca Prince

Chase Waters

Jennifer Weintraub

Sam Wilcox

Katherine Zanotelli

Former Undergraduate Research Assistants

Kristale Abdulla

Daniel Agugliaro

Nick Ardito

Kayla Aschmutat

Trish Breault

Alicia Cacioppo

Carlie Cegielski

Ashely Coakley

Isabella de la Vega

Jordan Dolgos

Jessica Dubowski

Alicia Edwin

Laura Fleig

Victoria Giorgio

Melissa Gonzalez

Sean Houlihan

Julie Jasewicz

Vlad Jean-Baptiste

Ellen Kim

Julia Lembach

Michelle Marcello

Camilla Marzella

Michael McCurdy

Brianna McKernan

Julia Melfi

Chelsey Nkrumah

Kara Ploss

Maria Randazzo

Kristen Seaman

Sierra Siedsma

Edward Smith

Zachary Sohotra

Carolyn Solimine

Lauren Springer

Ashely Tatis

August Thilberg

Jayonna Treacy

Healy Tureski

Chase Walters

Krysta Woodcock

Zhuoning Wu

Manshuer Yu

Peter Zambetti
 

Research Projects

Does Registration and Notification Policy Deter Adolescent Sexual Offending?

Abstract

This project advances scientific understanding about the likelihood that juvenile sex offender registration and notification policies can deter adolescents from engaging in sexual behaviors that are common in their age group, yet frequently criminalized and subject to serious, long-term penalties. In particular, Dr. Najdowski and her collaborator Dr. Cleary seek to explicate the criminological processes that are prerequisites to general deterrence as well as the developmental psychological mechanisms that may condition those processes. This is imperative as prior research and pilot work suggests many adolescents are unaware of the breadth of sexual behaviors that warrant registration and notification, which both undermines policy effectiveness and puts youth at risk of being systematically and sometimes publicly labeled as sex offenders.

Dr. Najdowski and Dr. Cleary have two objectives: 1) Empirically evaluate whether legal knowledge that certain sexual behaviors may be punished with sex offender registration and notification deters adolescent sexual offending over time, and 2) Advance scientific knowledge by identifying psychological mechanisms that undermine deterrence among adolescents who are aware of registration and notification risk by (a) precluding their ability to engage in rational choice and (b) shaping the perceived net cost of sexual offending. Dr. Najdowski and Dr. Cleary are administering two electronic surveys one year apart to derive relations between adolescents’ legal knowledge related to sex offender registration and notification policy and their likelihood of committing sexual offenses over time. Specifically, Dr. Najdowski and Dr. Cleary are expanding from their two prior pilot studies by experimentally manipulating whether adolescent participants are exposed to educational information about the risk of criminal justice involvement and sex offender registration and notification associated with illegal adolescent sexual behaviors. They are also discovering whether and how, even when adolescents are (made) aware that sexual behaviors are prohibited and carry legal risks, psychosocial maturity constructs of temperance, perspective, and responsibility reduce the deterrent impact of registration and notification.

Participants are 14 to 17 years old, a range commonly targeted by juvenile registration and notification policies and a period of rapid developmental change—that is, the group most legally and behaviorally at risk of punishment. The study is taking place in Virginia, a state with relatively restrictive juvenile sex offender registration policies and where Dr. Najdowski and Dr. Cleary have already collected cross-sectional pilot data to test preliminary hypotheses and inform this study’s design. This project’s experimental and longitudinal approach and inclusion of theoretically relevant yet currently untested constructs will thereby transform current understanding of relations between criminological theory on deterrence, social-developmental psychology, and legal policy.

The intellectual merit of this scientific work lies in (a) its experimental and longitudinal design, which allows for causal determination of whether and why sex offender registration and notification policy affects adolescents’ risky sexual behavior; (b) novel integration of theories from criminology and social-developmental psychology to advance scientific understanding of adolescent sexual offending in the real world; (c) expansion of knowledge related to psychological determinants of adolescents’ risky behavior; and (d) contribution to the broader field of criminology aimed at understanding when policy effectively deters undesirable behavior.

Sex offender registration policies have become more restrictive and more frequently applied to adolescent offenders, yet whether they actually deter youth sexual offending remains unknown. This project’s findings will inform policymaking on this heavily contested issue. Findings will be foundational for future investigations of policy reform, such as whether widespread intervention with parents is needed to assist youth in managing registration risk. Dr. Najdowski and Dr. Cleary also will promote interest in psychology, criminology, and policy research among adolescent research participants and graduate student research assistants. Dr. Najdowski and Dr. Cleary will use Open Science Framework to manage and report the research publicly in line with NSF’s open science policy. A project wiki and other dissemination efforts will ensure findings are publicly accessible and facilitate discussion and collaboration with other researchers, front-line professionals, community leaders, and policymakers. The proposed interdisciplinary approach will ultimately reveal whether and how policy can effectively deter adolescent sex offending, protect developmentally vulnerable adolescents from experiencing excessively punitive outcomes, and promote justice outcomes.

Racial Differences in Perceptions of Control and Freedom in Police Encounters

Abstract

A new but growing area of research is exploring whether racial differences in perceptions of police encounters translate into racial disparities in negative criminal justice outcomes.

Our study, funded by the UAlbany Faculty Research Award Programs, is building on this foundation by considering whether African Americans and Whites have different models of agency for interactions with police officers. Given the unique abuses Black people have experienced at the hands of the state, we hypothesized that Black people feel more under the control of the state and less able to assert their freedom in police encounters relative to White people. This hypothesis is being tested by comparing Black and White civilians' reactions to hypothetical police encounters.

Participants were recruited both online and from the community to explore whether online samples are valid for studying issues related to race and policing. Analyses are in progress. Results could shed light on racial differences in the tendency to yield civil liberties in police encounters (e.g., consenting to be detained or searched), which both increases the likelihood of criminal justice system involvement and restricts civilians’ defense options. Thus, this study is applying social psychological theory on agency to the novel context of the criminal justice system to shed light on critical issues related to race and policing.

Exploring Effects of Defendant Age and Race on Jurors’ Perceptions of Coerced Confessions

Abstract

This study investigates jurors’ ability to accurately evaluate juveniles’ confessions. Juveniles are disproportionately likely to give false confessions, which is a leading cause of their wrongful convictions.

Although jurors are notoriously bad at recognizing the psychological power of the interrogation to elicit false confessions from adults, my prior research suggests they may be sensitive to the circumstances of juveniles’ confessions. In one mock trial study (Najdowski & Bottoms, 2012), jurors’ verdicts were less influenced by a juvenile’s confession when it was coerced versus voluntary. Further, jurors were no more likely to convict the juvenile when she had been coerced to confess than when she maintained innocence. Consistent with attribution theory, jurors attached less weight to actual guilt as a potential cause of the juvenile’s confession when suggestibility and coercion were more plausible explanations.

In the present study, we varied the defendant’s age to directly test whether jurors are more aware of risks associated with coercion when considering juveniles versus adults. We varied the defendant’s race, too, to better understand racial disparities in wrongful convictions. Because Black children are perceived as older and less innocent than same-aged White children, we expect jurors will recognize that juveniles’ coerced confessions are unreliable only when the juvenile is White, not Black.

We are now in the process of coding qualitative data and conducting analyses to test these hypotheses. Results will help to explain why Black juveniles are overrepresented among wrongfully convicted false confessors. These studies have practical implications for attorneys’ jury selection tactics, jury instructions, and expert testimony, and therefore for improving the accuracy and fairness of decision-making in juvenile cases. This research was funded by a Psi Chi Mamie Phipps Clark Research Grant.

Publications

Refereed Articles
Unrefereed Articles
Book Chapters
Encyclopedia Entries
Other Scholarly Activities

News and Events

  • Look out for these two presentations from the PULSE Lab at the forthcoming APA Convention in Washington, D.C.!

    • On August 4th at 4pm, Melissa Anderson will be presenting on behalf of co-authors Gage Matyasovszky, Dr. Najdowski, Kimberly Bernstein, & Phillip Atiba Solomon on “Race-based differences in perceptions of freedom in police encounters."

    • At August 3 at 12pm, Amy Clifton-Mills will be presenting on behalf of coauthors Dr. Cleary and Dr. Najdowski on “Youths' awareness of sex offender registration policy and associated registerable sexual behaviors"

  • Congratulations to Dr. Najdowski for receiving the APA Society for Child and Family Policy and Practice (Division 37) Section on Child Maltreatment Mid-Career Award for Outstanding Work in Child Maltreatment! Dr. Najdowski will be receiving this award at the upcoming APA Convention in Washington, D.C.!

  • Announcing new research from the PULSE Lab!

    • Dr. Najdowski just published an article in American Psychologist about “How the “Black criminal” stereotype shapes Black people’s psychological experience of policing.” 

    • Also, along with Dr. Hayley Cleary of VCU and UAlbany alum Paige Oja, Dr. Najdowski published an article in Behavioral Sciences & the Law about “Relations between peer influence, perceived costs versus benefits, and sexual offending among adolescents aware of sex offender registration risk." More details and links to these two articles are available under the Publications tab.

  • Dr. Najdowski contributed to Jillian Kramer’s recent article "Louisiana jurors can't go home until they reach a verdict. A new bill could change that" published in The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate!

  • Congratulations to Amanda Scarlata and Sarah Smith, lab alums who have been accepted into Master’s degree programs!

  • Each year, graduating seniors at UAlbany nominate a professor for the Torch Award—someone who has gone above and beyond the traditional teaching role to change that student’s life in a significant way.  Out of scores of nominations, Professor Najdowski was selected as one of four 2023 Torch Professor Distinguished Nominees!

  • Congratulations to Reagan Boera, who was accepted into UAlbany's School Psychology Certificate of Advanced Study (CAS) Program!

  • Lab Alumni Ethan Snowball was just accepted into the UAlbany Master's program in Information Science! Congratulations Ethan!
  • We're excited to report that the PULSE Lab was well-represented at the American Psychology-Law Society Conference in Philadelphia this past March with these three presentations:

    • Why do people call the Police? Effects of race in ambiguous situations by Melissa Anderson & Cynthia Najdowski

    • Do racial stereotypes contribute to medical misdiagnosis of child abuse? Investigating tunnel vision in the emergency room by Kimberly Bernstein, Cynthia Najdowski, & Katherine Wahrer

    • The psychological consequences of precinct diversification in a hypothetical police encounter by Srishti Katuri, Tara Henchey, Ryan Lefever, Elise Fenn, Cynthia Najdowski, and Iris Blandón-Gitlin

Photos

Summer 2023

Cynthia Najdowski and Melissa Anderson attended the 2023 American Psychological Association Convention in Washington, D.C., where Melissa presented our research on race-based differences in perceptions of police encounters.

Two women wearing lanyards stand in front of a colorful pop-up wall that reads, 'you belong here.' and 'APA 2023'
A woman in a red and white floral dress, wearing a lanyard with shoulder-length brown hair stands in front of a research poster titled, 'Raced-Based Difference in Perceptions of Freedom in Police Encounters'

 

Spring 2023

Lab members Amanda Scarlata and Sarah Smith and lab alum Eddie Smith presenting their research at UAlbany’s Showcase Day!

A woman with long, brown hair in a white blouse and olive pants stands next to a research poster titled, 'Undergraduate Students' Experiences with University Police: An Assessment of Feelings of Safety, Belongingness and Well-being,' with a byline underneath that reads 'Amanda Scarlata.'
A woman with long brown hair, a white blouse and a black blazer smiles while standing next to a research poster titled, 'The power of our imagination combined: Collaborative imagination's role in facilitating social connection,' with a byline that reads, 'Sarah Smith.'

  

A man with brown hair, a pale blue shirt, and a gray blazer stands to the left of a research poster titled, 'Do 'Groove' Inducing Sounds Need to be Perceived as Music for Individuals to Show Movement?'


Dr. Kim Bernstein did a terrific job presenting our data at the 2023 American Psychology-Law Society Conference!

A woman with dark hair in a red shirt and black blazer stands by a podium in front of a room of people while presenting a slideshow. On a screen behind her, a slide reads 'Adrian Thomas' with a picture of a man holding his face in his hands.


Melissa Anderson at her first American Psychology-Law Society Conference! She did a fantastic job on her poster presentation, which described the results of her initial research project examining laypeople's decision-making around 911 calls.

A woman with curly dark hair in a blue floral top and yellow blazer stands to the left of a research poster titled, 'Why Do People Call the Police? Effects of Race in Ambiguous Situations.'

 

Spring 2022

End-of-semester pizza party at Professor Najdowski's house. Congratulations to Dr. Weintraub and Dr. Bernstein!

Seven people sit in chairs around a fire pit in a backyard, surrounded by trees and a house, with a child standing with his back facing the camera.
Two women with brown hair sit in a backyard, smiling while holding up framed historical drawings.

 

Spring 2019

End-of-semester potluck dinner at Professor Najdowski's house.

Eleven people sit and stand around a dining room table, smiling, talking and enjoying food.

 

Ten people sit and stand around a dining room table, eating, talking and laughing

 

Summer 2018

Sam Wilcox presents our research on racial prejudice in social media at the 2018 American Psychological Association Convention in San Fransisco, California. 

A woman with long brown hair. in a black and white dress wears a name tag and smiles next to a research poster

 

Spring 2018

Sam Strine and Lisa Dobrowolsky present their honors thesis research projects at the 2018 UAlbany Undergraduate Research Conference. 

Two women, dressed in business apparel and wearing name tags smile and stand on either side of two research posters displayed side-by-side


Lisa Dobrowolsky receives the 2018 UAlbany Presidential Award for Undergraduate Research. 

Three women stand at the front of a conference room in front of a UAlbany backdrop. The person in the middle holds a plaque.


Jenn Weintraub presents our research on juror decision-making at the Capital District Feminist Studies Consortium Conference in 2018 in Troy, New York. 

A brunette in a black and white blouse and a name tag smiles and stands next to a research poster mounted on a wall.


Professor Najdowski receives the American Academy of Forensic Psychology and the American Psychology-Law Society (AP-LS) Saleem A. Shah Early Career Development Award at the 2018 AP-LS meeting in Memphis, Tennessee. 

A woman with brown hair and a white patterned blouse accepts a plaque from a woman with short blonde hair behind a podium on stage in front of crowded room.

 

Spring 2017

Lauren Springer presents her PhD Comp project at the 2017 meeting of the Association for Psychological Science, in Boston, Massachusetts.

A woman with long curly brown hair stands and smiles to the left of a research poster. She is dressed in black and has a nametag around her neck.

 

Spring 2016

Jenn Weintraub presents her PhD Comp project at the 2016 American Psychology-Law Society meeting.

A woman in a black blazer stands behind a podium in a conference room to the left of a projection screen. To the right of the screen, three people sit at a table.


Kim Bernstein presents her PhD Comp project at the 2016 AP-LS meeting. 

A woman stands at a podium and presents a slideshow to a conference room full of people.


Kim Bernstein presents her poster, "Stereotype Threat and Social Dominance in Police-Citizen Encounters," at the 2016 annual AP-LS meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.

A woman in a gray blazer and a lanyard smiles with her hair pulled back in a bun. She is standing next to a research poster.

Join the PULSE Lab

Unfortunately, it is not likely that Professor Najdowski will be able to recruit any new doctoral students for admission in Fall 2024, although it may be possible. If you are interested in joining the PULSE Lab as a doctoral student, you may apply to the University at Albany Social & Personality Doctoral Program here.

If you are currently a University at Albany graduate student or undergraduate student and are interested in becoming a research assistant in the PULSE Lab, please fill out the PULSE Lab interest form.

We look forward to hearing from you!