Graduate Associate


Avani Mehta Sood

Ph.D. Program in Psychology

Department of Psychology
Green Hall
Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08540

Avani Mehta Sood recently received her Ph.D. from the Department of Psychology at Princeton University. She received her J.D. in 2003 from Yale Law School, where she was an editor of the Yale Law Journal and a member of the Lowenstein International Human Rights Law Clinic and the New Haven Legal Assistance Clinic, Family Law Unit. She received her A.B. degree in Psychology, summa cum laude, from Princeton in 1999, along with the Edward E. Jones Memorial Thesis Prize, the Howard Crosby Warren Senior Prize, and induction into the Phi Beta Kappa society.

After law school, Avani worked as a litigation associate on international arbitration and internal investigation cases at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP; clerked for Judge Kimba Wood in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York; and was awarded the Robert L. Bernstein Fellowship in International Human Rights, through which she conducted field research in India and Kenya with the Center for Reproductive Rights’ International Legal Program.

During her years in law school and legal practice, Avani was fascinated by her observations of the interplay between social psychology and the law. She therefore decided to obtain graduate training in the empirical methodologies, statistical techniques, and theories of psychology, with which to inform her legal scholarship. Avani’s dissertation work at Princeton uses experimental methods to study the covert operation of motivated cognition in legal decision making. Specifically, she has investigated the effects and legal implications of this psychological phenomenon in judgments about regulating morality through the criminal law and excluding incriminating evidence obtained through illegal searches. In addition, she conducts experiments on the psychological motives underlying support for the use of severe interrogation, and is involved in a study investigating the organizational and ethical culture of large law firms.

Avani’s research and teaching interests include criminal law, criminal procedure, professional responsibility, evidence, torts, and family law.  In addition, she has strong interests in comparative law, international law, and international human rights law—which stem from her clinical and international work, as well as from having lived in India, Hong Kong, and Saudi Arabia.  Avani would also love to design and teach a course on law and psychology.

Avani has received a number of competitive fellowship awards during her graduate studies at Princeton, including the Fellowship of Woodrow Wilson Scholars and the Princeton University Center for Human Values Graduate Prize Fellowship. Her research has additionally been funded by substantial grants from the Law School Admission Council and the National Science Foundation.  Avani publishes in both law reviews and refereed empirical journals, and serves as a peer reviewer for various psychology, law, and policy journals.


Motivated Cognition in Legal Judgments:An Analytic Review, Annual Review of Law and Social Science (invited submission, forthcoming 2013).

The Plasticity of Harm in the Service of Criminalization Goals, 100 California Law Review (forthcoming 2012) (with John Darley). (

Aggressive Interrogation and Retributive Justice: A Proposed Psychological Model, in Ideology, Psychology, and Law 574-604 (Jon Hanson ed., Oxford University Press, 2012) (with Kevin Carlsmith). (

Legal Efforts for Social Reform through the Indian Supreme Court, 51 Harvard International Law Journal Online 63 (2010). (

The Fine Line Between Interrogation and Retribution, 45 Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 191 (2009) (with Kevin Carlsmith). (

Redressing Women's Rights Violations Through the Judiciary, 1 Jindal Global Law Review 137 (2009).

Gender Justice through Public Interest Litigation:Case Studies from India, 41 Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law 833 (2008). (

Failure to Deliver: Violations of Women's Human Rights in Kenyan Health Facilities (2007) (with Elisa Slattery & Claris Ogangah). (

Litigating Reproductive Rights: Using Public Interest Litigation and International Law to Promote Gender Justice in India (2006). (

Works in Progress

Cognitive Cleansing: Motivated Applications of the Exclusionary Rule.

Debiasing the Motivated Reasoner (with Joel Cooper).

Motivated Justice: Conflicting Theories of Punishment and the Expression of Bias (with Kevin Carlsmith & Katherine Castino).

The Calibration of Punishment Based on the Subjective Experience of the Offender.

Motivated Reasoning on the Bench: Does Criminal Severity Influence Judges' Beliefs About Police Wrongdoing? (with Jeffrey Segal).

The Psychology of Law Firm Compensation (with John Darley).

Select Scholarly Presentations

Program in Law and Public Affairs, Princeton University: 'Unpoisoning' the Fruit of the Poisonous Tree: Motivated Applications of the Exclusionary Rule (2012).

Law and Society Association Conference, San Francisco: Assessing Damages and Harms in Multiple Contexts (2011).

Law and Cognition Seminar, Harvard Law School: Motivated Reasoning and Cultural Cognition (2011).

Law, Language, and Cognition Seminar, Brooklyn Law School: Motivated Reasoning in Legal Analysis (2011).

Program in Law and Public Affairs, Princeton University: Motivated Reasoning and the Law (2011).

Conference on Empirical Legal Studies, Yale Law School: Criminal Justice: Psychology of Crime (2010).

The Law, Society, and History Colloquium, New York Law School: The Plasticity of Harm: An Empirical Demonstration of the Malleability of Judgments in the Service of Criminalization (2010).

Northeast Law and Society Conference, Amherst College: Motive and Meaning: Legal Understandings and Line Drawing (2010).

Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues Biennial Conference, New Orleans: Attitudes Toward Torture: Social Psychological Investigations (2010).

Harvard Law and Mind Sciences Conference, Harvard Law School: Moral Biology: Mind Sciences and Punishment (2010).

Harvard International Law Journal Symposium: International Dispute Resolution in Practice, Harvard Law School: Legal Efforts at Social Reform in Foreign Fora (2010).

Princeton Conference on Psychology and Policymaking, Princeton University: The Fine Line Between Interrogation and Retribution (2008).

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