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Influence of Biases in Investigation

Updated January 5, 2022
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Influence of Biases in Investigation essay

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After re-examining all the discussion questions, there is one question I would have liked to have see presented. The publication of the National Academy of Sciences report on forensic sciences was a watershed moment for the forensic sciences community. The report addressed several issues with not just the individual forensic sciences, but also the influence of biases on the decision-making process of the examiners. To understand the influence of bias, define and explain cognitive bias and then define one or two of these cognitive biases most recognizable in your community.

A cognitive bias, simply put, is a mistake in the decision-making process. Cognitive biases are mistakes made during reasoning, evaluating, remembering, or other cognitive process. Cognitive biases occur because of an individual’s preconceived notions or life experiences interfering with decision making. These biases overwhelm the minds ability to make clear judgements and decisions to the extent that contradictory information regarding the decision to be made will be disregarded. Cognitive biases occur when an individual tends to see what is expected, consciously or unconsciously. Many kinds of cognitive biases exist, such as expectation bias and confirmation bias.

It is important to understand that no one can be completely rational during the decision-making process. As individuals, we routinely make decisions based on limited information and use instinct, emotions, and prior teachings as a guidepost. This decision-making process is called the bounded rationality theory. This theory states that while individuals generally make decisions that are rational, these decisions are based upon the individual’s mental capabilities and the limits of the available information. Three limitations drive this process, regardless of intelligence level of the individual. The limitations are that the available data is limited and can sometimes be unreliable, the human mind has a limited capacity for evaluating and processing all the available data, and that there is often only a limited amount of time available for this decision-making process. The outcome of this modified decision-making process is that while the individual has every intention of making a rational decision, ultimately the decision made will be what is referred to as a “satisficing” decision rather than a maximizing decision. In other words, its a good enough for now decision.

In 1998, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) published the NFPA 921: Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations (NFPA 921) document. In this edition, the NFPA officially recognized the influence of biases in the community and its effect upon the decision-making process. The document identified the two biases most prevalent in the fire and explosion investigations community, expectation bias and confirmation bias. NFPA 921 defined expectation bias and confirmation bias to bring an understanding of these biases to the community to reduce the incidents of bias.

Due to cognitive biases, the most common result in fire investigations are the improper determinations of the fire origin and cause, which leads to improper and biased investigations. As previously stated, confirmation bias and expectation bias are the most discussed biases in the fire investigations community. These biases are subjective biases which serve to undermine the reliability of evidence. An individual can have difficulty recognizing and accepting details and observations that run contrary to pre-established beliefs or life experiences.

Confirmation bias is a tendency to search for or interpret information to confirm beliefs and disregard or avoid any information that may disagree with those prior beliefs. Confirmation bias leads to only identifying data collected that confirms the investigator pre-conceived notions of where the fire originated and how the fire started. One such example is the preconceived notion that a fire in a mobile home with no utilities must be an arson/incendiary fire. The investigator will make that determination no matter what contradictory information is obtained. A fire cannot have started in the mobile home of there is no electrical service to the mobile home, therefor it must be an arson.

Expectation bias is a well-known and established bias which occurs when an investigator reaches a conclusion early in the fire scene investigation, without having examined or considered all the relevant data. This bias occurs during the analysis of the collected evidence when the fire investigator subconsciously misinterprets the evidence to fit the hypothesis of where and how the fire started. The investigator uses the premature determination to drive the investigative processes, analyses, and conclusions. The introduction of expectation bias into the investigation results in the use of only that data that supports this previously formed conclusion. An example of this would be obtaining interview information regarding the previous fires at the location or the financial status of the owners prior to conducting the fire scene investigation. This information, while valuable to the potential criminal investigation, is extraneous and can be inflammatory for the fire scene investigation.

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Influence of Biases in Investigation. (2022, Jan 05). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/influence-of-biases-in-investigation/

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