Tuesday, June 16, 2009

IQ, MR and death penalty: Special issue of Applied Neuropsychology

The journal Applied Neuropsychology just published a special issue that focuses on the issue of intellectual disabilities (mental retardation) and the death penalty. An advanced copy of the table of contents (that I received a while back) can be viewed here.

The formal listing of articles, authors, pages, and viewable abstracts are available at the Applied Neuropsychology web page for this issue.

Dr. Stephen Greenspan is the editor for the special issue. His introductory article, Assessment and Diagnosis of Mental Retardation in Death Penalty Cases: Introduction and Overview of the Special 'Atkins’ Issue, organizes the articles around three "prongs" used in the definition of mental retardation.
  • Intellectual functioning
  • Adaptive functioning
  • Developmental onset
Most articles fall under one of these three prongs, but a few don't. According to Greenspan, "The final paper, by Olley, addresses the need for psychologists testifying in Atkins cases to have relevant training and experienceinvolving people with mild mental retardation functioning in community settings." Oiley's article articulates the need for experts, who testify or provide declarations for the court in Atkins cases, should have "an adequate understanding of mild mental retardation and, in particular, to avoid making intuitive-clinical judgments based on inappropriate stereotypes more appropriate to people with moderate or severe."

A few other tidbits gleaned from Dr. Greenspan's introductory article follow below:
  • A major problem with Atkins cases is that the diagnostic criteria often vary across different state laws and court systems. Many states use an IQ cut-off score of 70 while others allow more flexibility based on psychometric principles such as measurement error (standard error of measurement - more on this in a later post). Thus, a 75 in one state may not meet the diagnostic criteria for MR...while in another it may be considered as a valid score for an individual with MR.
  • Two issues in intellectual assessment that are very common are the Flynn Effect and the determination of intellectual or adaptive malingering during assessments.
  • Prong three (developmental criterion) is usually given the least amount of attention in Atkins proceedings.

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