ArLyne's Diamonds

A running commentary of ideas

Monday, February 15, 2016

Neutral Investigations/Evaluations

I’ve counseled and written about this issue numerous times. So often well-intended people, thinking they are being neutral wind up only considering evidence that supports either the allegation, or their personal point of view. This is human nature.

I’ve always believed that this was true in subjective areas, such as whether someone is telling the truth or lying, or if they sexually harassed someone, or inadvertently insulted them. Eye witness identification is a classic example of how wrong people can be when they think they know the person who was responsible for the crime. Research has shown, over and over again, that eye witness identification is extremely faulty and subject to all sorts of influences.

HR and legal evaluations often go about their investigation looking solely for evidence that supports allegations – and refuse to listen to those that would refute it. I’ve read many reports which argue that the person trying to give evidence on the other side is either “denying” or “lying.”  

Not so long ago I attended a lecture by a brilliant presenter, Dr. Itiel Dror, who is a world renowned neuroscientist and a leading expert on cognitive bias in expert testimony in the criminal justice system. 

Among the many things he said:
  • There is lots of research that says your cognitive bias affects your conclusions. If you change the scenario (for example give them two sets of the same person’s fingerprints to be compared to a third set – but in case A saying that the person was found guilty and in case B saying that they knew the person was not guilty) the fingerprint experts (with many years of experience) will find differently. In case A they will see a match, whereas in case B they will determine that the two prints are dissimilar.
  •  Motivation influences visiual perception. He showed us a few examples which I am unable to copy here, but looked at one way they mean one thing and another way a different object. You’ve all see the vase and the people example – he showed two others.
  • There is also confirmation bias – confirming a point of view – which is what I’ve mentioned above. Disconfirming information is ignored.
  • He says seasoned experts minimize cognitive contamination – in the same way we protect against physical contamination. In their desire to get to the pure information, they protect themselves against other information coming in.
In pure research we try to avoid contamination and reduce the experimental design to clean out as many variables as possible. Dr. Dror suggests that when a case is given to a forensic expert, it should be given with as little additional information as possible. He drew a quadrant:

                                                            Relevant                                  Not Relevant

And he suggested that experts be given only the information that is both relevant and non-biasing. They must be blind to irrelevant information. If necessary, there could be sequential unmasking of information.

Now, unfortunately, this is not entirely possible in our workplace evaluations of an allegation of misconduct – but we should strive to be as neutral and un-biasing as possible. If the person interviewing the complainant doesn’t give other than the very basic information to an evaluator, without suggesting that the complainant was believable or not, or had other incidents, or that there were other complaints against the alleged perpetrator than at least we reduce some of the bias.

It is also critically important to know your own prejudices. We all have them – the more aware and honest with yourself you are the less likely you are to pre-judge based on them. It is so important to be as neutral as humanly possible when doing evaluations and investigations.


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