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Cognitive Human Factors and Forensic Document Examiner Methods and Procedures

Award Information

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Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2015, $728,615)

As submitted by the proposer: The purpose of this research is to address the needs identified by DOJ, NIJ, NSF, NIST, and other organizations by employing multi-disciplinary research for improved understanding of the production of science in service to the legal system and national security interests. Interdisciplinary research encompassing expertise from forensic practice, social and cognitive psychology, vision science, and other areas is needed to establish the basis and extent of expertise, to develop rigorous protocols and measures and to establish education and training programs that consistently and comprehensively address the knowledge and skills required to establish expertise in forensic fields. The proposed international multidisciplinary research program will extend our previous work (NIJ Award No. 2010-DN-BX-K271), by supporting ongoing research which empirically explores the reliability, measurement validity, and accuracy of established FDE procedures. A series of three experiments in the proposed project will add to this body of knowledge by focusing on additional questions about the FDE examination and decision making process and the nature and psychometric properties of the opinion continuums. The proposed project will also support ongoing teaching and training opportunities for students from a historically black college/university (HBCU), as well as students from collaborating institutions. Our overall research goal is to investigate the influence of possible sources of cognitive bias in the methods and procedures of forensic document examination, specifically addressing the following research questions: What is the relationship between the context established by presentation order of questioned and known writing and the examination process? How do examiners apply the currently-used bipolar continuum of certainty (Elimination through Identification with a center position of Inconclusive) when expressing their opinions about the authorship of questioned writings? How much writing constitutes “sufficient” information upon which to base an opinion? The study will address the following specific research goals: Goal 1: Investigate the relationship among human factors such as visual context, semantic content, attentional resources, salience, bottom-up/top-down processing, perception, and feature matching in FDE decision making, and examine the interaction between these factors and task performance in samples of professional document examiners and lay participants. Goal 2: Investigate the measurement properties of the nine-point opinion continuum and the utility of fuzzy set theory in quantifying position values along the continuum. Goal 3: Investigate the relationship between the amount of handwriting available for examination and the accuracy and certainty of participants’ opinions. This project contains a research and/or development component, as defined in applicable law. ca/ncf
Date Created: September 16, 2015