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Motivational sources of confirmation bias in criminal investigations: The need for cognitive closure

Journal article
Authors Karl Ask
Pär-Anders Granhag
Published in Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling
Volume 2
Issue 1
Pages 43-63
Publication year 2005
Published at Department of Psychology
Pages 43-63
Language en
Keywords Criminal investigation, confirmation bias, cognitive closure
Subject categories Psychology


In two experiments, criminal investigators (N = 50) and undergraduate students (N = 68) read a set of facts from the preliminary investigation of a homicide case. Participants' initial hypothesis regarding the crime was manipulated by provid-ing background information implying that the prime suspect had a jealousy mo-tive or that there might be an alternative perpetrator. Students displayed a fram-ing effect, such that guilt was ascribed to the prime suspect only when a potential motive was presented, whereas investigators did so regardless of hypothesis, thus being less sensitive to alternative interpretations. Investigators' need for cogni-tive closure (NFC) moderated the effect of the hypothesis on perceptions of the strength of the evidence against the prime suspect; high (v low) NFC investiga-tors were less likely to acknowledge inconsistencies in the material when pre-sented with a potential motive, but were more likely to do so when made aware of the possibility of an alternative perpetrator. Interpretations are somewhat clouded by the fact that dispositional NFC did not seem to affect in a consistent manner participants' motivation toward the experimental task.

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