Police and Confirmation Bias

Criminal Defense Lawyer | DWI, Drug, Theft & Assault Charges

By Collin County Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal


(972) 369-0577

Confirmation bias is a psychological phenomenon whereby people have a tendency to selectively prefer information which confirms their pre-existing beliefs and hypotheses.

Why is this important in criminal law?  Because every case involves investigation in one way or another.  Police officers can and do fall into the confirmation bias trap.

Textbook signs of confirmation bias include ignoring evidence that contradicts the initial impression of the officer and interpreting neutral facts or exculpatory facts as evidence of guilt among others.

Psychologists have conducted studies on confirmation bias.  In one study, test subjects were given fake police files which weakly incriminated a particular suspect.  Later evidence showed that perhaps a second suspect was the culprit and that the original information was false.  Not surprisingly, the subjects fell into several confirmation bias traps.  They rejected evidence inconsistent with the innocence…

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