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Occupational norms and norm activation: Effects on police investigators’ processing of evidence

Conference paper
Authors Karl Ask
Pär-Anders Granhag
Anna Rebelius
Published in Paper presented at the 18th Conference of the European Association of Psychology and Law, Maastricht, The Netherlands
Publication year 2008
Published at Department of Psychology
Language en
Keywords Criminal investigation, Effectiveness, Norms, Police, Evidence, Processing
Subject categories Psychology


Social norms in the police culture place a premium on decisiveness and effectiveness, which may promote a heuristic mode of thinking. However, objective and fair investigation requires systematic analysis. Norm activation theory predicts that the temporary accessibility of a social norm determines the extent to which it affects actual behavior. An experiment was conducted with 68 experienced police investigators to test the effects of norm activation on the processing and evaluation of criminal evidence. Social norms related to either effectiveness or carefulness were activated before investigators read and evaluated an assault case. As predicted, the activation of effectiveness (vs. carefulness) norms reduced participants’ sensitivity to a diagnostic witness statement, indicating a less systematic processing strategy. Since participants were unaware of this influence, the consequences of investigators’ social environment appear to be subtle and hard to detect. However, active promotion of alternative norms may be an effective countermeasure.

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