Embedded Psychology in Mens Rea Determinations: Systematic Differences between Legal Standards and Reasoning Processes across Cultures


The mens rea inquiry asks jurors to determine a defendant’s mental state at a particular moment in time. Social and cultural psychological research, however, suggests that jurors (and people generally) may not understand others’ mental states in ways consistent with legal standards. In this article, the author theoretically and empirically examines (across culture) how jurors understand defendants’ mental states, investigating whether they can apply mental state inquiries in a manner consistent with domestic and international policy goals. After testing several mental state variables, the author finds that the law’s hierarchy of mental states frequently does not match jurors’ psychological processes. Analysis across culture (US v. China) indicates that people from different cultural backgrounds make mental state judgments in systematically different ways. The author discusses policy implications both for American law as well as international law.


Law and Society

Date of this Version

August 2004