Cognitive informed training to create awareness and reduce cognitive bias in forensic work
By Dr Itiel Dror, Winner of the 2014 Chair’s Choice Award for Excellence in Business Psychology
For this week's News post we are delighted to share the details of the award-winning entry by Dr Itiel Dror, winner of the Excellence in Training Award and the Chair’s Choice for Excellence in Business Psychology:
The need to minimise bias and reduce error in forensic work prompted Cognitive Consultants International Ltd (CCI) to use their understanding of psychology to develop cognitively informed training. Forensic experts may not understand that impartiality and objectivity is compromised by exposure to irrelevant biasing contextual information, or by working backwards from a suspect to the evidence. This entry described how Dr Itiel Dror developed solutions to this problem, bridging psychology and the world of forensic work (published in Dror, et al, 2013), and delivered training to a host of organisations in the UK and overseas.
Forensic experts are often exposed to a great deal of irrelevant extraneous contextual information but regard themselves as impartial; a belief which goes against basic business psychology concepts and theories. The challenge of the training intervention was to show the forensic examiners that they are not immune to the effects of irrelevant contextual information, and suggest practical steps to minimise their bias. The training was focused on helping the forensic experts adopt simple psychological steps to prevent extraneous contextual information from contaminating decision making (such as blinding to irrelevant information). However, to achieve this, the first challenge was to convince them that the concepts were relevant to their work.
The stakeholders were quite resistant to the very idea that business psychology is relevant, let alone that they are biased in their work. CCI were able to convince them by demonstrating how psychological theory translated to actual forensic work in criminal cases. They showed that psychology not only exposes a real problem that exists but also provides relatively simple ways to resolve it.
The training started with introducing psychological theory and demonstrating its relevance to many real world expert domains. Connections were made, showing delegates exactly how business psychology was relevant to forensic work. The training included a range of interactive exercises that enabled delegates to experience bias first hand. The consultants also visited the organisations post-training to help them implement the psychological solutions suggested during the training.
A variety of psychological concepts and research shows how context can bias forensic work, and these were crucial in helping the consultants explain the issues to their clients. For example, decision-making as a subjective process, influence by social and cognitive factors, errors in thinking, biases and the impact of contextual irrelevant extraneous information. The success of the training hinged on the organisations accepting the need for such a psychological intervention, which required an acknowledgement of their vulnerabilities. The mere fact that CCI have delivered the training in more than half a dozen forensic organisations is significant, a huge success in its own right. Post-intervention, success would be measured by participant response and the extent to which operating practices were adapted to incorporate solutions to combat bias.
Participant feedback on training delivered was positive. For example in early 2014 delegates trained at the FBI in Quantico were asked to respond to six questions with a score from a minimum of 1 to a maximum of 5 (1= very low, 2= low, 3= average, 4= high, and 5= very high). The mean score of ratings received were:
- How well were the subjects explained? 4.44
- How relevant were the subjects to your work? 4.62
- How interesting did you find the workshop? 4.53
- How do you rate the instructor's delivery? 4.38
- The Instructor's knowledge of the subject matter? 4.88
- Overall satisfaction of the workshop. 4.64
The majority of answers, across all the participants, across all questions, were the maximum possible top score. The grand mean (means of means) was 4.58.
More widely, the training was very well received and found to be highly valuable by the participating forensic examiners. At an organisational level, the forensic institutions have adopted new best practices and procedures to minimise the effects of bias. As a result of this work the Forensic Regulator, the Criminal Case Review Commission and the courts (e.g., Court of Appeal, the cases of R v Dlugosz, Pickering, and MDS, 2013) have taken these issues on board.
CCI have been able to raise awareness of these psychological issues with forensic experts and have learned a great deal about the pragmatic reality of the world of work and how to better apply business psychology. They are the first and only psychologists to date to have applied business psychology to the issue of bias in the work of forensic experts and are confident that their interventions have made a significant impact.
Itiel Dror is a Cognitive Neuroscientist (PhD, Harvard University), Principal Consultant & Researcher at Cognitive Consultants International (CCI).
Dr Dror’s experience and expertise is in taking scientific knowledge about the human brain and cognitive architecture, and translating it into practical ways to improve and affect human performance in the workplace.
Much of his applied work relates to learning and skill acquisition, decision making, and how technology can aid in changing behaviours and cognition. He has published over 100 research articles, and is an honourary Senior Researcher at University College London (UCL).