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Auburn student investigates the 'minds behind crime' through psychology, sociology

Maddy McDaniel

Maddy McDaniel, a senior in psychology and sociology with a concentration in criminology, hopes to improve the justice system by assessing the psychology behind crime.

The hit television show "Criminal Minds" first inspired McDaniel to pursue psychology and crime studies, but it wasn't until she visited a juvenile delinquency facility and spoke to the boys incarcerated there that she decided forensic psychology was her calling.

"A better system for juveniles holds a special place in my heart," McDaniel said. "I feel like there are a lot of issues within the juvenile system, especially with punishment instead of working on improving recidivism rates. So, a big thing for me is just making sure that every kid in the justice system has an opportunity to have those psychological and counseling needs met."

As a research assistant in Assistant Professor Samantha Fede's Social Cognition & Affective/Moral Processing Imaging Lab, McDaniel conducted a study on how interactions with the justice system can affect quality of life.

In her pilot project, titled "Justice system contacts, individual differences and quality of life," McDaniel found a more positive relationship with justice system interactions than she expected. She hopes to expand the study by increasing the participant pool and dig into how interactions with the justice system can improve lives.

"We expected that poor justice system conditions would be correlated with poor quality of life, which is not what we found," McDaniel said. "We found that the psychological aspect of quality of life improved after an interaction with the police, which was very interesting, and then we found within the 20 individuals who had been incarcerated, the physical aspect of their quality of life improved if they felt that their facility treated them fairly."

McDaniel presented the project at the 2024 Auburn Research Symposium and the Southeastern Psychology Association conference in Orlando.

In 2023, McDaniel interned with the Wichita Police Department as a crime analyst. The department recognized her contributions with the 2023 Cooper/McKee Volunteer of the Year Award.

McDaniel said even though the experience didn't directly align with her goals, she recommends getting involved in the field early to learn from others.

"It was really interesting because I got to hear so much about the crimes that were happening in my own city and how they're using psychology to combat the crime," McDaniel said. "It wasn't exactly what I hope my future career looks like, but it showed me how they use psychology within law enforcement."

Find more information about the criminology concentration in the College of Liberal Arts.

Tags: Sociology Psychological Sciences Students Research

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