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Cognitive bias and forensic anthropology: the power of context in the interpretation of skeletal remains

Nakhaeizadeh, Sherry; (2017) Cognitive bias and forensic anthropology: the power of context in the interpretation of skeletal remains. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

The central role of human cognition in forensic science and its effect on the interpretation of forensic evidence is being increasingly recognised within the forensic disciplines. It is clear that the concerns over expert decision-making and their vulnerabilities have not only been highlighted in recent key governmental reports, but also created a debate within the literature. This has, within recent years lead to a rise of empirical research focusing on the impact of cognitive biases in all stages of the forensic science process, highlighting that these vulnerabilities are not limited to a specific area of expertise. In forensic anthropology, the presence of cognitive bias, its impact, and how to mitigate its effects are still not fully empirically assessed or appreciated. This thesis seeks to unearth and understand the degree to which contextual biases are present in forensic anthropology, and present ways that can mitigate the impacts in biological profiling. This research addresses the effect of context within forensic anthropological analysis throughout the forensic science process (collection, analysis, interpretation,) through a series of experimental studies. The results of the experimental studies showed that context could have a powerful effect in visual assessments of skeletal remains in sex, ancestry and age at death. Furthermore, the findings also provided an important first step towards understanding the potential effects of initial exposure to irrelevant context at a crime scene in the excavations of skeletal remains, showing a potential for cascading bias on the subsequent assessment of the skeletal remains. An evidence-based approach for dealing with cognitive interpretation issues within the human identification field is presented. The findings of this thesis have contributed to the body of knowledge and provide empirical data that illustrate the benefits of developing a more holistic approach to forensic decision-making from crime scene to court within forensic anthropology and the wider forensic disciplines.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Cognitive bias and forensic anthropology: the power of context in the interpretation of skeletal remains
Event: UCL (University College London)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1571165
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