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Are Jurors Intuitive Statisticians? Bayesian Causal Reasoning in Legal Contexts

Shengelia, T; Lagnado, D; (2021) Are Jurors Intuitive Statisticians? Bayesian Causal Reasoning in Legal Contexts. Frontiers in Psychology , 11 , Article 519262. 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.519262. Green open access

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Abstract

In criminal trials, evidence often involves a degree of uncertainty and decision-making includes moving from the initial presumption of innocence to inference about guilt based on that evidence. The jurors’ ability to combine evidence and make accurate intuitive probabilistic judgments underpins this process. Previous research has shown that errors in probabilistic reasoning can be explained by a misalignment of the evidence presented with the intuitive causal models that people construct. This has been explored in abstract and context-free situations. However, less is known about how people interpret evidence in context-rich situations such as legal cases. The present study examined participants’ intuitive probabilistic reasoning in legal contexts and assessed how people’s causal models underlie the process of belief updating in the light of new evidence. The study assessed whether participants update beliefs in line with Bayesian norms and if errors in belief updating can be explained by the causal structures underpinning the evidence integration process. The study was based on a recent case in England where a couple was accused of intentionally harming their baby but was eventually exonerated because the child’s symptoms were found to be caused by a rare blood disorder. Participants were presented with a range of evidence, one piece at a time, including physical evidence and reports from experts. Participants made probability judgments about the abuse and disorder as causes of the child’s symptoms. Subjective probability judgments were compared against Bayesian norms. The causal models constructed by participants were also elicited. Results showed that overall participants revised their beliefs appropriately in the right direction based on evidence. However, this revision was done without exact Bayesian computation and errors were observed in estimating the weight of evidence. Errors in probabilistic judgments were partly accounted for, by differences in the causal models representing the evidence. Our findings suggest that understanding causal models that guide people’s judgments may help shed light on errors made in evidence integration and potentially identify ways to address accuracy in judgment.

Type: Article
Title: Are Jurors Intuitive Statisticians? Bayesian Causal Reasoning in Legal Contexts
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.519262
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.519262
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © 2021 Shengelia and Lagnado. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
Keywords: Bayesian reasoning, causal inferences, intuitive judgment, probabilistic reasoning, jury decision making, causal Bayes nets, explaining away, zero-sum
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Brain Sciences > Div of Psychology and Lang Sciences > Experimental Psychology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10123024
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