Alison Ryan ’09 Earns Honors for Paper on Assault

Alison Ryan ’09 was recently awarded second-runner-up in the Best Undergraduate Paper Award competition sponsored by the American Psychology-Law Society (APLS), an international organization of psychologists, lawyers, and legal scholars.

The award for Best Undergraduate Paper is given for outstanding undergraduate research papers focused on the interdisciplinary study of psychology and law. Ryan’s senior thesis, Jury decision-making in cases of drug-facilitated sexual assault, had already been selected “Best Thesis” by the psychology department at CMC last spring.

For her senior thesis, Ryan “decided to expand my research of jury decision-making to a topic that was directly relevant to the college population. Because drug-facilitated sexual assault is a growing concern on college campuses, I thought it would be interesting to see how mock jurors make decisions in such cases and what factors they weigh most heavily during the decision-making process.

“I examined the influence of expert testimony (which explained the flaws associated with testing for date-rape drugs), individual acceptance of rape myths, gender, and victim reporting time on juror verdicts,” Ryan explains. “I found that gender is a highly influential factor in jury decision-making with 56% of female mock jurors rendering guilty verdicts as compared to 15% of male mock jurors.

“I found that generally, students at The Claremont Colleges do not hold many rape myths, but that such beliefs did influence verdicts for students who held them.”

One of the reviewers who evaluated Ryan’s paper for the competition remarked that “The experiment was designed quite well, making appropriate use of manipulation checks, thorough stimulus materials, and interesting research questions.”

Associate Professor of Psychology Dan Krauss, who was Ryan’s thesis advisor, thought that “Alison completed very original research on a topic that has been understudied in the U.S., and which will hopefully make a significant contribution to a developing literature.”

Of the thesis process, Ryan says that although designing a research study was arduous, it was exciting to successfully carry out and write up her own research, and it was good exposure to an academic career path. “I am very grateful for the 200 Claremont College students who participated in my experiment, and for the moral support and guidance provided by Professor Krauss, as well as Associate Professor of Psychology Shana Levin, my thesis class, and to my friends who helped me ring in my 22nd birthday in Poppa Lab.”

Ryan isn’t sure whether her career path will take her towards psychology or law, but she is presently working as a paralegal for the IRS in San Diego. The abstract from her paper is reproduced below:

Participants (N=208) read a transcript of a fictional drug-facilitated sexual assault case (DFSA), issued a verdict, and answered a series of case-specific questions. Participants received a transcript capturing one of six conditions with varying levels of forensic evidence (negative toxicological screening with or without expert testimony or a control condition) and differing reports of the amount of time it took the complainant to report to the hospital for a toxicological screening (either 5 or 24 hours). As predicted, expert testimony impacted ratings of guilt with those receiving expert testimony rendering higher guilt ratings than those who were only presented with a negative test result. Gender was also found to influence mock jurors’ verdicts along with acceptance of rape myths.