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Context Effects and Observer Bias—Implications for Forensic Odontology


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Jane Taylor, B.D.S., B.Sc.Dent., M.D.Sc., Ph.D.
Oral Health
University of Newcastle
PO Box 127
Ourimbah NSW 2258


Abstract:  Psychologists have long recognized the effects of contextual and extraneous information on decision making. Such information renders the subject susceptible to both motivational and cognitive bias; yet, it is difficult to assess the extent to which these influence forensic odontologists opinions as there have been no studies to date on this subject. This article explores the various types of contextual effects and biasing influences that potentially impact on the analysis of bitemarks in forensic odontology. It appears that the current practice of bitemark analysis is rich in sources of potentially biasing influences. In addition to the fundamental recognition that some form of bias is likely to exist, ways in which these should be minimized include: separation of the collection and analysis phases; limiting the amount of contextual information available to the odontologist responsible for the analysis; and ensuring that evidence that is ambiguous or of poor quality is identified as such prior to analysis.

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