Cognitive Bias in the Forensic Environment

By Roger Davies / 22 December 2015 / Forensics, Psychology of Intelligence

This is a guest post from Donna Crossan, a recent graduate of the MSc course in forensics at Cranfield University who has recently been working at IMSL as an analyst.

Why is there a lack of experimental research in cognitive bias and mitigation techniques within the forensic environment?

One of the reasons research has declined within this area I feel, is due to the huge surge in research in the 1990’s which has now been proven to have been falsified or the results have been fabricated. When scientists began to try to replicate these original studies they began to see results that completely refuted previous experiments. This then meant that institutes began not funding cognitive bias experiments etc. There are various examples of this should you want to read further in Ijzerman et al., (2015) and Savine, (2012). The subject also became quite unpopular due to all the controversy.

I believe another reason that so little research has been done in the area, is because scientists refuse to believe that bias has an effect on their judgement. As a result it is not seen as important. This effect has also been seen within training in the work environment. The major problem is that people are not aware of cognitive biases and when they occur. It has been suggested in various articles that one of the best ways to actually avoid bias is training and knowledge. Just knowing that these biases exist is a method of minimising them so why should it not be included throughout the training process?

On that note however, I find within bias research throughout all fields, there are too many articles that only suggest methods in which to mitigate these biases and too few experiments that prove these mitigation techniques actually work.  I have just finished my Msc dissertation and throughout the entirety of my research it was nearly impossible to find actual experimental work on the mitigation of cognitive bias. There has actually been a lot of work done on minimising bias in diagnostic medicine and I referred to a lot of this research throughout my dissertation and applied it to mitigating bias within CSI’s and novices investigating a crime scene.

It is so important that we recognise that cognitive bias actually occurs. That is the first step to minimising it. After all, in the forensic and intelligence worlds especially, it can be the difference between going to war and not going to war or a man’s innocence and freedom. It is easy to accept a scenario if it fits into the hypotheses that we have formed however, it is our responsibility to ensure that we look outside the box to make sure that it’s the correct solution.

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