Zapf, P. A., Kukucka, J., Kassin, S. M., & Dror, I. E.
Psychology, Public Policy, & Law
Decision-making of mental health professionals is influenced by irrelevant information (e.g., Murrie, Boccaccini, Guarnera, & Rufino, 2013). However, the extent to which mental health evaluators acknowledge the existence of bias, recognize it, and understand the need to guard against it, is unknown. To formally assess beliefs about the scope and nature of cognitive bias, we surveyed 1,099 mental health professionals who conduct forensic evaluations for the courts or other tribunals (and compared these results with a companion survey of 403 forensic examiners, reported in Kukucka, Kassin, Zapf, & Dror, 2017). Most evaluators expressed concern over cognitive bias but held an incorrect view that mere willpower can reduce bias. Evidence was also found for a bias blind spot (Pronin, Lin, & Ross, 2002), with more evaluators acknowledging bias in their peers’ judgments than in their own. Evaluators who had received training about bias were more likely to acknowledge cognitive bias as a cause for concern, whereas evaluators with more experience were less likely to acknowledge cognitive bias as a cause for concern in forensic evaluation as well as in their own judgments. Training efforts should highlight the bias blind spot and the fallibility of introspection or conscious effort as a means of reducing bias. In addition, policies and procedural guidance should be developed in regard to best cognitive practices in forensic evaluations.
What is clear is that forensic evaluators appear to be aware of the issue of bias in general, but diminishing rates of perceived susceptibility to bias in one’s own judgments and the perception of higher rates of bias in the judgments of others as compared with oneself, underscore that we may not be the most objective evaluators of our own decisions. As with the forensic sciences, implementing procedures and strategies to minimize the impact of bias in forensic evaluation can serve to proactively mitigate against the intrusion of irrelevant information in forensic decision making. This is especially important given the courts’ heavy reliance on evaluators’ opinions (see Zapf, Hubbard, Cooper, Wheeles, & Ronan, 2004), the fact that judges and juries have little choice but to trust the expert’s self-assessment of bias (see Kassin et al., 2013), and the potential for biased opinions and conclusions to cross-contaminate other evidence or testimony (see Dror, Morgan, Rando, & Nakhaeizadeh, 2017). More research is necessary to determine the specific strategies to be used and the various recommended means of implementing those strategies across forensic evaluations, but the time appears to be ripe for further discussion and development of policies and guidelines to acknowledge and attempt to reduce the potential impact of bias in forensic evaluation.
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