Hogeschool van Amsterdam

Forensisch onderzoek

Cognitive challenges at the crime scene: The importance of social science research when introducing mobile technologies at the crime scene


Crime scene investigations are accompanied by cognitive challenges. Introducing technologies at crime scenes requires research into the human factor. Mobile technologies can impede the investigation without studying the impact.

Forensic Science is highly focused on technological developments, especially with regard to crime scene investigations. Research in this field mainly focuses on technologies that support the visualization and analysis of (latent) traces. Examples of new technologies designed for rapid analysis of traces and for quickly obtaining identification information at the crime scene are so called rapid identification technologies. Recently developed mobile rapid analysis devices can generate identification information during an early stage of the investigation. Such developments create new opportunities for CSIs at the crime scene and for the investigation. It should, however, not be neglected that these technologies need to be handled by humans. Humans have to perceive and select traces before they can serve as input for these devices, and humans need to correctly interpret the output and the relevance of the evidence for the case. In other words, the human factor plays an important role even when complete trace analyses are conducted by machines. Rapid technologies for trace analysis do not change the fact that it is impossible to analyze every possible trace and sample that could be taken from the crime scene, and that CSIs constantly have to make choices. Their perceptions, observations, interpretations and decisions depend on scenarios they can imagine and on their routines, beliefs and experience. The introduction of new identification technologies necessitates thinking about the influence of these technologies on perceptions, decisions and interpretations and on the way rapid analysis options change the dynamics of the criminal investigation process. If we do not understand the underlying decision making processes, we are faced with the risk that such promising new devices impede instead of aid the investigation as wrongful interpretations of traces and analysis results can bias other components of the investigation.

The introduction of new technologies at the crime scene is accompanied by (new) cognitive challenges. The availability of mobile rapid analysis devices influences CSIs decision making processes and their interpretation of the perceived information. Recent studies have demonstrated that social science research is crucial in understanding cognitive aspects of Forensic Science and should receive more attention. In this commentary, we will link this general requirement to the above mentioned rapid identification technologies.

Reference de Gruijter, M., & de Poot, C. J. (2019). Cognitive challenges at the crime scene: The importance of social science research when introducing mobile technologies at the crime scene. Forensic Science International, 297, e16-e18. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.forsciint.2019.01.026
Published by  Kenniscentrum Techniek 1 April 2019