Forensic sciences are 'fraught with error'

A target article recently published in Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition (JARMAC) reviews various high-profile false convictions. It provides an overview of classic psychological research on expectancy and observer effects and indicates in which ways forensic science examiners may be influenced by information such as confessions, eyewitness identification, and graphical evidence.

The target article authors, Saul Kassin and Jeff Kukucka, of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Itiel Dror, University College, London, point out that when the instrument of analysis is a human examiner, then even evidence considered by the public to be highly objective, such as , is actually subjective in its judgment. Therefore, they argue, there is a potential for confirmation bias because psychological research shows that "people tend to seek, perceive, interpret, and create new evidence in ways that verify their preexisting beliefs."

The authors reveal that even DNA evidence, more famously known for exonerating wrongfully convicted people, has contributed to , especially when other, flawed, evidence chronologically precedes it, such as a mistaken or false confession.

"Popular TV programs, such as CSI: , communicate a false belief in the powers of forensic science, a problem that can be exacerbated when experts overstate the strength of the evidence," explained leading author, Saul Kassin.

The study does not just point out flaws – it details many things that can be done to limit or avoid these problems, both during an investigation and during a trial. The authors propose various best practice recommendations to reduce confirmation biases. During the investigation, for example, an easy solution would be to shield from everything other than the evidence they are examining. This minimizes chances of fitting the evidence to a known suspect.

"The target article describes an important force that has the potential to erode the quality of our judicial system. Solving the problem will require psychological researchers, legal scholars and forensic scientists communicating with one another– a process that is fostered by the exchange of ideas," says Ronald Fisher, Editor-in-Chief of JARMAC, and Professor of psychology at Florida International University.

More information: The target article is "The Forensic Confirmation Bias: Problems, Perspectives, and Proposed Solutions" by Saul M. Kassin, Itiel Dror and Jeff Kukucka (DOI: 10.1016/j.jarmac.2013.01.001). It appears in the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, Volume 2, Issue 1 (March 2013), published by Elsevier on behalf of the Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study probes impact of CSI-style programming on jurors

Sep 24, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- A new psychological study from the University of Leicester aims to investigate how accurate people's perceptions about forensic science are, where these beliefs come from, and how this forensic awareness ...

Digital forensic examiners face stress, role-conflict

May 11, 2011

Despite playing an increasingly vital role in criminal investigations, digital forensic examiners face staffing cuts, heavy caseloads and stress within police departments that may not fully understand their responsibilities, ...

False positives rare from fingerprint examiners

Apr 26, 2011

In a controlled study, fingerprint examiners who determined that a crime scene-quality print matched a high-quality sample from the same individual were correct 99.8% of the time.

Recommended for you

Suicide risk falls substantially after talk therapy

5 hours ago

Repeat suicide attempts and deaths by suicide were roughly 25 percent lower among a group of Danish people who underwent voluntary short-term psychosocial counseling after a suicide attempt, new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School ...

Brains transform remote threats into anxiety

Nov 21, 2014

Modern life can feel defined by low-level anxiety swirling through society. Continual reports about terrorism and war. A struggle to stay on top of family finances and hold onto jobs. An onslaught of news ...

Mental disorders due to permanent stress

Nov 21, 2014

Activated through permanent stress, immune cells will have a damaging effect on and cause changes to the brain. This may result in mental disorders. The effects of permanent stress on the immune system are studied by the ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.