Objectivity is a Myth for You but Not for Me or Police: A Bias Blind Spot for Viewing and Remembering Criminal Events

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Abstract

Now more than ever, people have access to police footage, yet people still disagree about what some footage depicts. This is not surprising given that research on attention, perception, and memory demonstrates that motivations, biases, and context shape what people see and remember. However, we do not know whether people are attuned to the fact that their understanding and memory of observed criminal encounters may be biased. Moreover, we do not know how people think about laypeople’s and police officers’ ability to view such events objectively. We examined these beliefs by asking participants to imagine that they themselves, an average American or an average police officer, viewed a criminal event live, with police body-worn camera (BWC) footage or with surveillance footage. Participants provided ratings for each observer’s susceptibility to bias. Importantly, we found a bias blind spot (Pronin, Lin, & Ross, 2002) for people’s ratings of themselves and—depending on participants’ attitudes toward police—police officers. People denied that biases would influence their own and officers’ inferences and memory for a criminal encounter, but they did not give the average American the same benefit. Moreover, participants rated officers as being the least biased after they watched their BWC footage, demonstrating that people perceive BWCs to be an extension of what officers see. We explore the implications our results have for policies concerning BWC footage and disagreements that may arise when people assume that they and police are more objective than others.

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