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'Elasticity' in the processing of criminal evidence: The role of investigators' need for closure

Poster
Authors Tamara Marksteiner
Karl Ask
Marc-André Reinhard
Pär-Anders Granhag
Published in 19th Conference of the European Association of Psychology and Law, 2-5 September, Sorrento, Italy
Publication year 2009
Published at Department of Psychology
Language en
Keywords Criminal investigation, Information processing, Need for closure
Subject categories Cognitive science, Applied Psychology

Abstract

Criminal investigators have to balance the motivation to accurately examine their cases (accuracy goal), with the motivation to quickly achieve results and reach conclusions (closure goal). Previous research has shown that investigators are more skeptical towards evidence that disconfirms their prior belief about a case, and more so concerning witness evidence than technical evidence (i.e., an ‘elasticity’ effect; Ask, Rebelius & Granhag, 2008). We hypothesize that it is not the inconsistency with a prior belief, but rather with a closure goal, that makes investigators more skeptical towards exonerating evidence. Hence, investigators who initially believe a target person to be innocent, and subsequently receives a piece of evidence, should judge inconsistent (i.e., incriminating) evidence as more reliable than consistent (i.e., exonerating) evidence. The hypothesis was tested in an experiment following a 2 (Type of evidence: DNA vs. witness) × 2 (Consistency: consistent vs. inconsistent) × 2 (Need for closure: high vs. low) factorial design. Police trainees read background information about a homicide case and about a seemingly innocent person who was questioned by the police, and judged the probability of him being the offender. Later they received consistent or inconsistent evidence and were asked to assess the reliability of the additional evidence. Preliminary results show that, consistent with the hypothesis, participants who received inconsistent (vs. consistent) evidence rated the evidence as more reliable. The effect was stronger in the witness than in the DNA group, indicating a ‘reversed’ elasticity effect, and was more pronounced among persons high in need for closure.

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