Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Clinical Psychology

First Advisor

Paul G. Nestor

Second Advisor

David Lisak

Third Advisor

David W. Holtzen


The ability to assimilate and understand the social context and demands of a courtroom and its related procedures as well as the ability to participate meaningfully in one's defense requires both social communication skills and a sufficient degree of meaning-making of the social environment. This study examined the psychological testing profiles of individuals found incompetent to stand trial (IST) through a lens of social cognitive neuroscience. The relationship between clinical judgments of competence to stand trial of defendants committed to a maximum-security psychiatric facility and their test scores on measures of intelligence, memory, and psychopathology were examined. In addition, based on social cognitive theory, legal theory, as well as previous research findings, domains of intelligence, memory, social reasoning and psychiatric symptoms were expected to figure prominently in clinical judgments of competence. Results indicated that in comparison to defendants recommended competent to stand trial (CST), defendants recommended IST differed significantly on measures of auditory memory, social judgment, and psychiatric symptoms, but not in overall psychometric intelligence. Hierarchical regression analyses revealed that variance in clinical judgments of competence could be significantly and uniquely accounted for by the lower scores of the IST defendants on measures of auditory memory. In addition, along with significantly lower scores on a test of social judgment, IST defendants reported significantly higher levels of thought blocking, confusion, distractibility, concentration problems, pressured speech, decreased sleep, and increased motor activity on a measure of personality. Overall, the results pointed to the important role of auditory-verbal episodic memory and to a lesser extent, social judgment and psychiatric symptoms, in clinical judgments of competence.


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