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Sci Justice. 2014 May;54(3):208-14. doi: 10.1016/j.scijus.2013.11.003. Epub 2013 Dec 20.

Cognitive bias in forensic anthropology: visual assessment of skeletal remains is susceptible to confirmation bias.

Author information

1
Department of Security and Crime Science, University College London, London, United Kingdom. Electronic address: sherry.nakhaeizadeh.12@ucl.ac.uk.
2
UCL JDI Centre for the Forensic Sciences, University College London, London, United Kingdom.
3
Department of Security and Crime Science, University College London, London, United Kingdom; UCL JDI Centre for the Forensic Sciences, University College London, London, United Kingdom.

Abstract

An experimental study was designed to examine cognitive biases within forensic anthropological non-metric methods in assessing sex, ancestry and age at death. To investigate examiner interpretation, forty-one non-novice participants were semi randomly divided into three groups. Prior to conducting the assessment of the skeletal remains, two of the groups were given different extraneous contextual information regarding the sex, ancestry and age at death of the individual. The third group acted as a control group with no extraneous contextual information. The experiment was designed to investigate if the interpretation and conclusions of the skeletal remains would differ amongst participants within the three groups, and to assess whether the examiners would confirm or disagree with the given extraneous context when establishing a biological profile. The results revealed a significant biasing effect within the three groups, demonstrating a strong confirmation bias in the assessment of sex, ancestry and age at death. In assessment of sex, 31% of the participants in the control group concluded that the skeleton remains were male. In contrast, in the group that received contextual information that the remains were male, 72% concluded that the remains were male, and in the participant group where the context was that the remains were of a female, 0% of the participants concluded that the remains were male. Comparable results showing bias were found in assessing ancestry and age at death. These data demonstrate that cognitive bias can impact forensic anthropological non-metric methods on skeletal remains and affects the interpretation and conclusions of the forensic scientists. This empirical study is a step in establishing an evidence base approach for dealing with cognitive issues in forensic anthropological assessments, so as to enhance this valuable forensic science discipline.

KEYWORDS:

Cognitive bias; Cognitive forensic; Decision-making; Forensic anthropology; Forensic science

PMID:
24796950
DOI:
10.1016/j.scijus.2013.11.003
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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