Contextual information and cognitive bias in the forensic investigation of fatal fires: do these incidents present an increased risk of flawed decision-making?

Neil Morling, Marika Henneberg

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Abstract

In sudden or unexpected deaths, there is a need to identify whether or not the death resulted from a criminal act. Adding evidentiary problems associated with fire and arson to this further complicates the investigation. A multi-agency approach with an open exchange of information is recommended, though the use of unrestrictive contextual information is problematic. Extraneous contextual information may introduce bias into the investigative process, risking flawed decision-making, and fatal fires may be particularly vulnerable to this. The authors examine the effect of cognitive bias on fire investigation and argue that, in fatal fire investigations, the sharing of contextual information should involve the use of strict information management strategies to ensure that forensic experts only receive task-relevant contextual information.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100406
JournalInternational Journal of Law, Crime and Justice
Early online date6 May 2020
DOIs
Publication statusEarly online - 6 May 2020

Keywords

  • fatal fires
  • cognitive bias
  • decision-making
  • scientific protocols
  • linear sequential unmasking
  • case-manager approach

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