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The University of Southampton
Centre for Risk Research

New Approach to Reduce the Risk of Cognitive Bias in Forensic Analysis

Published: 4 August 2015

At the first International Symposium on Forensic Science Error Management in Arlington, Virginia, Dr Itiel Dror, a cognitive neuroscientist and member of the Centre for Risk Research, recently presented a new approach that could help to reduce one of the biggest challenges in forensic analysis: human error.

Dr Dror explained to the audience of over 400 forensic experts that a central problem in forensic analysis is that individuals responsible for evaluating evidence from crime scenes are often exposed to information about a case that can bias their analysis. Dr Dror said that the bias can stem from the unconscious influence of contextual information that is often irrelevant, such as the nature of the crime, the appearance or background of a suspect, and the information provided by police investigators. Dr Dror highlighted an example of how fingerprint examiners sometimes interpret fingerprint evidence in different ways based on whether they have seen a specific suspect’s fingerprint before starting the analysis.

Forensic analysis can be biased


Dr Dror explained how he and six forensic scientists have developed a new approach called linear sequential unmasking that can help to reduce these potential pitfalls. The approach, which was recently published in the Journal of Forensic Sciences, states that forensic examiners should only be exposed to information that is specifically relevant to each given stage of analysis and that every effort should be made to prevent ‘backtracking’ for information that could confirm or bias objective evaluations of evidence. For example, a fingerprint examiner would complete an examination before receiving information about a suspect and then would be prevented from re-examining the print after receiving the information.


Dr Dror is the Principle Consultant & Researcher at Cognitive Consultants International ( His academic work relates to theoretical issues underlying human performance and cognition and his research examines the information processing involved in perception, judgment and decision making. Dr. Itiel Dror has published over a hundred peer-reviewed scientific articles and his work has been covered by Science and by Nature. To learn more about his presentation on linear sequential unmasking, please click here to view a more detailed article.



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