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Cognitive processing strategies in criminal investigations: Experimental evidence for situational influences

Paper i proceeding
Författare Karl Ask
Publicerad i Stockholm Criminology Symposium 2007, 4-6 June, Stockholm, Sweden
Publiceringsår 2007
Publicerad vid Psykologiska institutionen
Språk en
Ämneskategorier Psykologi


In the course of a criminal investigation, investigators must negotiate salient external pressures (e.g., time pressure, occupational norms) as well as internal psychological states (e.g., emotions, motives). Decades of psychological research has shown that such factors may influence considerably the processes of human judgment and decision making, including the likelihood of stereotype use. However, the cognitive processes involved in investigative work have long been neglected by researchers. This paper presents a series of experimental studies that have systematically studied the cognitive consequences of pressures specific to the investigative setting. The studies employed a vignette paradigm, in which experienced criminal investigators were presented with summaries of unsolved criminal cases and asked to make judgments about guilt, evidence reliability and other aspects of the cases. The key finding is that time pressure, anger, and the activation of prevailing organizational norms result in the reliance on simplified, heuristic information-processing strategies, as indicated by imperviousness to new information and perseverance of initial beliefs about the cases. Although the use of stereotypes was not examined specifically in these studies, it can be concluded that several factors in investigators’ working environment facilitate cognitive processing strategies known to increase stereotype use.

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