The research agenda of my PhD in a nutshell

The papers in my PhD have been inspired by the theory of procedural justice policing. There is a lively debate on how this theory should be formulated which should be discussed in its own post sometime in the future. For now, let’s state that by-and-large my perspective is aligned with how Tom Tyler and Jonathan Jackson have been postulating the theory (e.g. Jackson and Gau 2015; Tyler and Jackson 2013, 2014).

In short, Tyler and Jackson argue that there are certain previous experiences with the police (legal socialisation, personal and vicarious contact etc.) that shape the views regarding whether the police conduct themselves in morally appropriate ways. This appropriate police behaviour is defined by whether the police follow the principles of procedural justice (i.e., being fair, neutral, allowing voice, showing respect etc.) and whether they show respect for people’s boundaries (i.e., the police do not exceed their authority, nor abuse their power, nor act as if they are above the law, and respect people’s freedom etc.). This, in turn, activates certain psychological processes (e.g., sense of power and social identity), which influence how people think about police legitimacy (i.e., the duty to obey the police and normative alignment with the police). Finally, this police legitimacy affects certain socially desirable outcomes, such as willingness to cooperate with the police and compliance with the laws. This model is summarised in the figure below:

Notably, there are alternative ways to formulate this theory (see for instance an inspiring proposal by Hamm, Trinkner, and Carr (2017)), but all these agree in that they propose a flowchart to depict the processes. From a causal inference point of view, this is fairly problematic because this would indicate that each of the pathways showed in the figure above establish exclusive causal effects. For instance, this would mean that previous experiences with the police only predicts the views regarding appropriate police behaviour, but no other construct down the line. This seems like a very stringent and unlikely proposition. In contrast, it is far more probable that for certain psychological processes the influence of previous experiences with the police is mostly/completely channelled by appropriate police behaviour, whilst for others, these previous experiences retain a direct impact on them. This would mean that instead of strict causal chain implied by the flowcharts, a more complex figure should be drawn, akin to this one:

The effects going through other, intermediate variables are usually referred to as mediated or indirect effects (previous experiences with the police -> appropriate police behaviour -> psychological processes), whilst the unmediated ones are usually called direct effects (previous experiences with the police -> psychological processes). In a nutshell, my PhD is about causally testing these pathways, scrutinising certain parts of the above figure paper-by-paper, bit-by-bit. I will return to the methodological challenges of causally testing these mediated effects in several upcoming posts.

Hamm, J. A., R. Trinkner, and J. D. Carr. 2017. “Fair Process, Trust, and Cooperation: Moving Toward an Integrated Framework of Police Legitimacy.” Criminal Justice and Behavior 44(9):1183–1212.
Jackson, Jonathan and Jacinta M. Gau. 2015. “Carving up Concepts? – Differentiating between Trust and Legitimacy in Public Attitudes towards Legal Authority.” Pp. 49–69 in Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Trust – Towards Theoretical and Methodological Integration, edited by E. Shockley, T. M. S. Neal, L. PytlikZillig, and B. Bornstein. Springer.
Tyler, Tom R. and Jonathan Jackson. 2013. “Future Challenges in the Study of Legitimacy and Criminal Justice.” Pp. 83–104 in Legitimacy and Criminal Justice – An International Exploration, edited by J. Tankebe and A. Liebling. Wiley.
Tyler, Tom R. and Jonathan Jackson. 2014. “Popular Legitimacy and the Exercise of Legal Authority: Motivating Compliance, Cooperation, and Engagement.” Psychology, Public Policy, and Law 20(1):78–95.

2 thoughts on “The research agenda of my PhD in a nutshell”

    1. Thank you so much for your kind interest. I’ve finished two papers on this (they are under review) and the third (co-authored) one will be completed shortly. You can find the two papers on the following links (I added the pathways examined by them):

      Previous experiences with the police -> procedural justice -> various outcomes (e.g., police legitimacy, sense of power)
      Procedural justice/respect for boundaries -> police legitimacy (duty to obey and moral alignment) -> willingness to cooperate

      Thanks again! 🙂

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