Confirmation Bias in Criminal Investigations

34 Pages Posted: 5 Jul 2006  

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). 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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