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Confirmation Bias in Criminal Investigations

Barbara O'Brien

Michigan State University - College of Law

Phoebe C. Ellsworth

University of Michigan Law School

September 19, 2006

1st Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper

Confirmation bias is the tendency to bolster a hypothesis by seeking consistent evidence while disregarding inconsistent evidence. In criminal investigations, preference for hypothesis-consistent information could contribute to false convictions by leading investigators to disregard evidence that challenges their theory of a case. Two studies examine factors that influence confirmation bias in criminal investigations. In study 1, participants (N = 108) who stated hypotheses early in their review of a mock police file showed bias in seeking and interpreting evidence. In study 2 (N = 109), asking participants to consider why a hypothesis might be wrong remedied bias, but asking them to generate additional hypotheses did not. Implications for improving accuracy of investigations and suggestions for future research are discussed.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 34

Keywords: confirmation bias, false convictions

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Date posted: July 5, 2006  

Suggested Citation

O'Brien, Barbara and Ellsworth, Phoebe C., Confirmation Bias in Criminal Investigations (September 19, 2006). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=913357 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.913357

Contact Information

Barbara O'Brien (Contact Author)
Michigan State University - College of Law ( email )
318 Law College Building
East Lansing, MI 48824-1300
United States
Phoebe C. Ellsworth
University of Michigan Law School ( email )
625 South State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States
(734) 763-1143 (Phone)
(734) 763-5781 (Fax)
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References:  33
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