The bounds of cognitive heuristic performance on the geographic profiling task



Human performance on the geographic profiling task—where the goal is to predict an offender's home location from their crime locations—has been shown to equal that of complex actuarial methods when it is based on appropriate heuristics. However, this evidence is derived from comparisons of ‘X-marks-the-spot’ predictions, which ignore the fact that some algorithms provide a prioritization of the offender's area of spatial activity. Using search area as a measure of performance, we examine the predictions of students (N = 200) and an actuarial method under three levels of information load and two levels of heuristic-environment fit. Results show that the actuarial method produces a smaller search area than a concentric search outward from students' ‘X-marks-the-spot’ predictions, but that students are able to produce search areas that are smaller than those provided by the actuarial method. Students' performance did not decrease under greater information load and was not improved by adding a descriptive qualifier to the taught heuristic. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.