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Saturday, August 6, 2022

A General Model of Cognitive Bias in Human Judgment and Systematic Review Specific to Forensic Mental Health

Neal, T. M. S., Lienert, P., Denne, E., & 
Singh, J. P. (2022).  
Law and Human Behavior, 46(2), 99–120.


Cognitive biases can impact experts’ judgments and decisions. We offer a broad descriptive model of how bias affects human judgment. Although studies have explored the role of cognitive biases and debiasing techniques in forensic mental health, we conducted the first systematic review to identify, evaluate, and summarize the findings. Hypotheses. Given the exploratory nature of this review, we did not test formal hypotheses. General research questions included the proportion of studies focusing on cognitive biases and/or debiasing, the research methods applied, the cognitive biases and debiasing strategies empirically studied in the forensic context, their effects on forensic mental health decisions, and effect sizes.

Public Significance Statement

Evidence of bias in forensic mental health emerged in ways consistent with what we know about human judgment broadly. We know less about how to debias judgments—an important frontier for future research. Better understanding how bias works and developing effective debiasing strategies tailored to the forensic mental health context hold promise for improving quality. Until then, we can use what we know now to limit bias in our work.

From the Discussion section

Is Bias a Problem for the Field of Forensic Mental Health?

Our interpretation of the judgment and decision-making literature more broadly, as well as the results from this systematic review conducted in this specific context, is that bias is an issue that deserves attention in forensic mental health—with some nuance. The overall assertion that bias is worthy of concern in forensic mental health rests both on the broader and the more specific literatures we reference here.

The broader literature is robust, revealing that well-studied biases affect human judgment and social cognition (e.g., Gilovich et al., 2002; Kahneman, 2011; see Figure 1). Although the field is robust in terms of individual studies demonstrating cognitive biases, decision science needs a credible, scientific organization of the various types of cognitive biases that have proliferated to better situate and organize the field. Even in the apparent absence of such an organizational structure, it is clear that biases influence consequential judgments not just for laypeople but for experts too, such as pilots (e.g., Walmsley & Gilbey, 2016), intelligence analysts (e.g., Reyna et al., 2014), doctors (e.g., Drew et al., 2013), and judges and lawyers (e.g., Englich et al., 2006; Girvan et al., 2015; Rachlinski et al., 2009). Given that forensic mental health experts are human, as are these other experts who demonstrate typical biases by virtue of being human, there is no reason to believe that forensic experts have automatic special protection against bias by virtue of their expertise.