The criminal profiling illusion: What’s Behind the Smoke and Mirrors?

Brent Snook, Richard M. Cullen, Craig Bennell, Paul J. Taylor, Paul Gendreau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

There is a belief that criminal profilers can predict a criminal's characteristics from crime scene evidence. In this article, the authors argue that this belief may be an illusion and explain how people may have been misled into believing that criminal profiling (CP) works despite no sound theoretical grounding and no strong empirical support for this possibility. Potentially responsible for this illusory belief is the information that people acquire about CP, which is heavily influenced by anecdotes, repetition of the message that profiling works, the expert profiler label, and a disproportionate emphasis on correct predictions. Also potentially responsible are aspects of information processing such as reasoning errors, creating meaning out of ambiguous information, imitating good ideas, and inferring fact from fiction. The authors conclude that CP should not be used as an investigative tool because it lacks scientific support.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1257-1276
Number of pages20
JournalCriminal justice and behavior
Volume35
Issue number10
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2008
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • criminal profiling
  • police investigations
  • belief formation
  • pseudoscience
  • PERSONALITY INTERPRETATIONS
  • OFFENDER CHARACTERISTICS
  • PSYCHOLOGICAL PROFILES
  • MODUS-OPERANDI
  • VIOLENT CRIME
  • SMALL SAMPLES
  • CONTAGION
  • ACCURACY
  • METAANALYSIS
  • ACCEPTANCE

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