Forensic Sciences Are “Fraught With Error”

An overview of classic psychological research on expectancy and observer effects published in Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition

Amsterdam, April 22, 2013

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 fingerprint evidence, 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 false convictions, especially when other, flawed, evidence chronologically precedes it, such as a mistaken eyewitness identification or false confession.

“Popular TV programs, such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, communicate a false belief in the powers of forensic science, a problem that can be exacerbated when forensic science 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 forensic examiners 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.

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.

The commentaries on the target article follow in the same issue http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/22113681/2/1

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Notes for Editors
Full text of the articles are available to credentialed journalists upon request; contact Irene Kanter-Schlifke at +31 20 485 3359 or i.kanter@elsevier.com or Linda Henkel at +1 203 254 4000 (ext. 3269) or lhenkel@fairfield.edu. Journalists wishing to interview the target article authors may contact Itiel Dror at i.dror@ucl.ac.uk

About the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition
The Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition (JARMAC) is an official journal of the Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition (www.sarmac.org, SARMAC). It publishes innovative, creative empirical research targeting the overlap between cognitive theory and real-world application. Its articles examine any cognitive process (e.g. memory, attention, decision-making, problem-solving, perception, mental representation, etc.) applied across many applied domains (e.g., education, health, aging, law, security, athletics, transportation, business, military, etc.). The ultimate goal of this unique journal is to reach not only psychological scientists working in this field and allied areas but also professionals and practitioners who seek to understand, apply, and benefit from research on memory and cognition. Therefore, each empirical article includes a section clearly describing the practical applications of the research. www.journals.elsevier.com/journal-of-applied-research-in-memory-and-cognition.

About SARMAC
The Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition is a non-profit professional organization that fosters applied research in memory and cognition. SARMAC primarily aims to promote the communication of high-quality research within and between the applied and basic research communities, and to other interested people and groups. The Society was founded in 1994 at the Third Practical Aspects of Memory Conference held at the University of Maryland. Every two years, it showcases the latest work in a wide and varied program at an international conference.www.sarmac.org

About Elsevier
Elsevier is a global information analytics company that helps institutions and professionals progress science, advance healthcare and improve performance for the benefit of humanity. Elsevier provides digital solutions and tools in the areas of strategic research management, R&D performance, clinical decision support, and professional education; including ScienceDirect, Scopus, ClinicalKey and Sherpath. Elsevier publishes over 2,500 digitized journals, including The Lancet and Cell, more than 35,000 e-book titles and many iconic reference works, including Gray's Anatomy. Elsevier is part of RELX Group, a global provider of information and analytics for professionals and business customers across industries. www.elsevier.com

Media contact
Irene Kanter-Schlifke
Elsevier
+31 20 485 3359
i.kanter@elsevier.com