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Stereotyping, congruence and presentation order: Interpretative biases in utilizing offender profiles

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Abstract:

This paper explores how offender profiles might influence the way in which individuals interpret investigative information dependent on its congruence with the investigators' own beliefs. Participants, comprising 222 lay people, completed an online questionnaire where a profile was either congruent or incongruent with a stereotypical or an atypical suspect who was presented before or after the introduction of the profile (resulting in eight conditions). Several cognitive strategies appeared to be used in interpreting the information. Contrary to expectations, individuals relying on representativeness heuristics were more influenced by a profile challenging their views than by one supporting them, whilst individuals who invested greater cognitive effort (termed hereafter "cognitive elaboration") were more resistant to changing their views in light of disconfirming profiling advice. There was tentative evidence to suggest that a confirmation bias might occur when individuals engage in cognitive elaboration, such that individuals appeared to be more influenced by a confirming profile than by a disconfirming one. Finally, it was found that the profile was perceived to be more influential when presented before the introduction of a suspect than after. Implications for advising on the interpretation of such advice, as well as preparing such reports, are discussed.

Keywords: Offender profiling; belief persistence; confirmation bias; representativeness; stereotypes

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10683160600822162

Affiliations: 1: UCL Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science, London, UK 2: Centre for the Study of Critical Incident Research, School of Psychology, The University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK

Publication date: June 1, 2007

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