Spotlight

Spotlight

Each month, the Office of Sponsored Programs will spotlight a different PI and their research. If you are interested in being featured in our next spotlight, please email sponsoredprograms@jjay.cuny.edu. Please be sure to provide us with an abstract (3-5 paragraphs) about your research, explanation of your recent project, the amount your project (s) were funded for, special events that you are hosting or coordinating, obstacles or challenges you faced during the application process, if applicable, and a photo of yourself.   

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From L to R: Andrew Evelo, Margaret Bull Kovera, Melanie Close

Margaret Bull Kovera, PhD
Professor, Department of Psychology

John Jay College of  Criminal Justice

Dr. Margaret Bull Kovera is a Presidential Scholar and Professor of Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Her research interests include eyewitness identification accuracy and legal decision-making by jurors, attorneys, and judges. Her research on this topic has received over $2 million in funding from the National Science Foundation’s Law and Social Sciences Program, with continuous funding since 1997.  She ranks #5 on a list of researchers who have received the most funding from NSF’s Law and Social Science Program since its inception in 1966.

Currently, Dr. Kovera has a major grant from the NSF to support her work investigating whether phenotypic bias plays a role in the increased risk of misidentification that African-American men face.  Specifically, phenotypic bias refers to the tendency for people to associate criminality with people, even African-American people, who express a more African facial phenotype (e.g., darker skin, prominent brow, wider nose, thicker lips) than with those who express a more European faci al phenotype. This association of African features with criminality results in a number of poor criminal justice outcomes for those possessing the features. In a series of four studies, Kovera and her students are testing whether this bias contributes to the misidentification of innocent African-American suspects and whether procedural safeguards designed to protect suspects against misidentification work to mitigate this bias. 

In addition, Dr. Kovera is a PI on two grants with her doctoral students, Andrew Evelo and Melanie Close. These Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grants provide funding to support the data collection for their dissertations. Evelo is studying whether the motivation and ability of lineup administrators to transmit cues to witnesses about which lineup member is the suspect influence administrators’ suggestive behaviors during the identification procedure. He is also examining whether the motivation and ability of witnesses to receive and use these cues moderates their effects on witnesses’ likelihood of choosing the suspect.  Close is investigating whether police use of problematic interrogation techniques (e.g., suggesting that they have evidence against the suspect that they don’t have) have downstream consequences for the plea-bargaining decisions of both guilty and innocent suspects. 

Kovera’s laboratory hosts over 20 student researchers, including undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral students who work together with Kovera to execute the three NSF-funded projects and many studies that are currently being conducted in the lab.  Some representative publications from the last few years, with students’ names appearing in bold font, appear below. 

Kovera, M. B. (Ed). (2017). The psychology of juries.  Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Chorn, J. A., & Kovera, M. B. (in press). Variations in reliability and validity do not influence judge, attorney, and juror decisions about psychological test evidence. Law and Human Behavior

Vitriol, J. A., & Kovera, M. B. (2018).  Exposure to capital voir dire may not increase convictions despite increasing pretrial presumption of guilt.  Law and Human Behavior, 42, 472-483. doi: 10.1037/lhb0000304

Modjadidi, K., & Kovera, M. B. (2018). Viewing videotaped identification procedure increases jurors’ sensitivity to single-blind lineup administration.  Law and Human Behavior, 42, 244–257. doi: 10.1037/lhb0000288

Zimmerman, D. M., Chorn, J. A., Rhead, L. M., Evelo, A. J., & Kovera, M. B. (2017).  Memory strength and lineup presentation moderate effects of administrator influence on mistaken identifications. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 23, 460–473. doi: 10.1037/xap0000147

Kovera, M. B., & Evelo, A. J. (2017).  The case for double-blind lineup administration.  Psychology, Public Policy and Law, 23, 421–437. doi: 10.1037/law0000139

Dr. Kovera is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science, the American Psychology-Law Society (APLS), the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, the Society for Experimental Social Psychology, and the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues. She has presented her research on eyewitness identification for members of Congress on the Hill and as part of the Distinguished Lecturer Series at the National Science Foundation. She has won a number of awards for her research, including the APLS Dissertation Award (1994), the APLS/AAFP Saleem Shah Early Career Award in Psychology and Law (2000), and APLS Outstanding Book Award (2018) for The Psychology of Juries, published by the American Psychological Association.  She is a co-author (with Gary Wells and others) of the current APLS-sponsored scientific review paper on evidence-based recommendations for the collection of eyewitness evidence.