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The Presumption of Guilt in Suspect Interrogations: Apprehension as a Trigger of Confirmation Bias and Debiasing Techniques
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Law, Department of Law.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-3811-7517
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Law, Department of Law.
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology.
2018 (English)In: Law and human behavior, ISSN 0147-7307, E-ISSN 1573-661X, Vol. 42, no 4, p. 336-354Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

This research tests whether a police officer’s decision to apprehend a suspect triggers confirmation bias during an interrogation. The study also tests two strategies to reduce confirmation bias: (1) decoupling decision to apprehend from interrogation and (2) reducing cognitive load for the interrogating police officer. In Experiment 1, Swedish police officers (N = 60) were faced with 12 scenarios in which they either had to decide for themselves whether to apprehend a suspect or were informed about the corresponding decision by another police officer or a prosecutor. Participants then prepared questions for a suspect interrogation and evaluated the trustworthiness of the suspect’s denial or confession. The same method was used in Experiment 2 but with law and psychology students (N = 60) as participants. In Experiment 3, psychology students (N = 60) prepared interrogation questions either by freely producing their own or by choosing questions from a preset list. Overall, apprehended suspects were interrogated in a more guilt presumptive way and rated as less trustworthy than non apprehended suspects. However, the tested debiasing techniques, primarily reducing cognitive load for the interrogating police officer, hold some potential in mitigating this bias.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
American Psychological Association (APA), 2018. Vol. 42, no 4, p. 336-354
Keywords [en]
confirmation bias, cognitive bias, debias, police, interrogation, apprehension, investigation
National Category
Law and Society Psychology
Research subject
Jurisprudence
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-351671DOI: 10.1037/lhb0000287ISI: 000439922500004PubMedID: 29963877OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-351671DiVA, id: diva2:1237549
Available from: 2018-08-09 Created: 2018-08-09 Last updated: 2018-10-18Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Confirmation Bias in Criminal Cases
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Confirmation Bias in Criminal Cases
2018 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Confirmation bias is a tendency to selectively search for and emphasize information that is consistent with a preferred hypothesis, whereas opposing information is ignored or downgraded. This thesis examines the role of confirmation bias in criminal cases, primarily focusing on the Swedish legal setting. It also examines possible debiasing techniques.

Experimental studies with Swedish police officers, prosecutors and judges (Study I-III) and an archive study of appeals and petitions for new trials (Study IV) were conducted. The results suggest that confirmation bias is at play to varying degrees at different stages of the criminal procedure. Also, the explanations and possible ways to prevent the bias seem to vary for these different stages. In Study I police officers’ more guilt presumptive questions to apprehended than non-apprehended suspects indicate a confirmation bias. This seems primarily driven by cognitive factors and reducing cognitive load is therefore a possible debiasing technique. In Study II prosecutors did not display confirmation bias before but only after the decision to press charges, as they then were less likely to consider additional investigation necessary and suggested more guilt confirming investigation. The driving forces need further examination. Study III suggests that pretrial detentions influence judges’ perception of the evidence strength, making them more likely to convict, in cases where they themselves detained. This is indicative of a confirmation bias with social explanations, which, possibly, can be mitigated by changing decision maker between detention and main hearing. The confirmatory reasoning in Study I-III can be considered rational or irrational, following different types of rationality, like probabilistic or judicial rationality. In Study IV, statistical estimates based on empirical data from the Apellate Courts and the Supreme Court indicate that far from all wrongfully convicted who appeal or petition for a new trial are acquitted. A robustness analysis confirmed that these overall conclusions hold over a wide variety of assumptions regarding unknown parameters.                         

Also, the usage of empirical methods to study law and legal phenomena is discussed. The concept of Evidence-Based Law (EBL) is used to exemplify how empirical legal research may benefit both legal scholarship and law in a wider sense.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Uppsala: Department of Law, Uppsala University, 2018. p. 284
Keywords
legal decision making, bias, confirmation bias, criminal cases, criminal procedure, police, prosecutor, judge, legal system, empirical legal research, evidence based law, debiasing technique
National Category
Law and Society Applied Psychology
Research subject
Jurisprudence
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-351709 (URN)978-91-506-2720-6 (ISBN)
Public defence
2018-09-28, Sal IV, Universitetshuset, Biskopsgatan 3, 753 10 Uppsala, Uppsala, 10:15 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2018-09-05 Created: 2018-08-10 Last updated: 2018-09-05

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