Confirmation Bias in Criminal Investigations

34 Pages Posted: 5 Jul 2006

See all articles by Barbara O'Brien

Barbara O'Brien

Michigan State University - College of Law

Phoebe C. Ellsworth

University of Michigan Law School

Date Written: September 19, 2006

Abstract

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.

Keywords: confirmation bias, false convictions

Suggested Citation

O'Brien, Barbara and Ellsworth, Phoebe C., Confirmation Bias in Criminal Investigations (September 19, 2006). 1st Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=913357 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.913357

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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