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10 Things Police Get Wrong About Psychology
Researchers tested police on major misconceptions about the psychology of policing
It’s reasonable to expect the police to know the basic facts about psychology that are vital to properly doing their job, but according to a recent study published in the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, which tested a small sample of British police officers, many of them don’t. The researchers found that the police didn’t fare any better than the average man on the street, and in some cases their knowledge was somewhat worse. Below are a few of the misconceptions that Dr. Julia Shaw and her colleagues tested the police on:
1. “When people lie, they look up and to the left.”
FALSE! The old wives tale that liars look up to the right (not the left) is believed to have originated in the mysterious world of neuro-linguistic programming, but it had never been empirically tested, until three years ago when it was proven wrong in a study by Richard Wiseman who found absolutely no correlation between eye gaze and lying. The phrase “not even wrong” comes to mind. The misconception was believed by 63 percent of police and 67 percent of the general public.
2. “The death sentence is an effective way to deter criminal activity.”
FALSE! There is no evidence that the death penalty deters crime. Police fared only slightly worse than the general public, with 45.5 percent answering incorrectly compared to 42.9 percent of control participants.
3. “We never forget the source of our knowledge.”
FALSE! This was one of the misconceptions where a minority of police really let their side down: 18.2 percent of police believed this myth, compared to 5.4 percent of the general population. We forget the source of our knowledge all the time.
4. “Eyewitnesses are always the most reliable source of case-related information.”
FALSE! Psychologists have known for a very long time that eyewitness testimony is incredibly unreliable. This message doesn’t seem to have got through to police however: 18.2 percent of officers still incorrectly believed this misconception, a score only 5 percentage points better than the general public. This is particularly worrying because eyewitnesses still remain the most important evidence in most convictions, a fact that only half of officers believed.
5. “Most mentally ill individuals are violent.”
FALSE! The mentally ill are less likely than the general population to engage in violence, while being more likely to be the victims of violence. Police fared a little better than the general population, with 15 percent believing this myth, compared to 21 percent of the public.
6. “Memory is like a video camera.”
FALSE! It is certainly not news that our memories are vulnerable to error and manipulation, but the message doesn’t seem to have got through to 14 percent of the police officers, which is only slightly worse than the 9 percent of the general population who agreed with this statement.
7. “The ultimate goal of any interrogation should be gaining a confession.”
FALSE! Once upon a time in the dark days of policing (also known as the 1950s), interrogations existed primarily to extract confessions. Now, we know better. Not only does coercion lead to false confessions, but also it is simply an ineffective tactic. Police are now trained to use interviews to gather as much information as possible, rather than to manipulate suspects. Police were more informed than the 41 percent of the general public who still believe the aim of interrogations is to gain a confession, but 27 percent still believed the myth. Worryingly, a similar number of police (25 percent) actually believed that “pressuring individuals to confess is the best way to find out the truth.”
8. “Accurate memories of childhood sexual abuse usually arise years after the abuse”
FALSE! The misconception that memories of childhood sexual abuse need to be recovered has been dubbed “The Most Dangerous Idea in Mental Health.” It has long been debunked, but only after sparking one of the most bizarre moral panics in living memory. Psychologists who believed they could recover memories from patients made a series of allegations about widespread satanic ritual abuse, after decades of inquiry it became overwhelmingly clear that the recovered memories were virtually exclusively false memories. If memories can be repressed at all, at the very least it is a phenomenon that is extremely rare. Astoundingly, a massive 68 percent of police officers still believe this myth, a number that is precisely the same for the general public.
9. “Police can tell when a suspect is lying.”
FALSE! Police should know better than anyone that this statement simply isn’t remotely true. Amazingly, 32 percent of police agreed with this statement, compared to only 13 percent of the general public, which perhaps is somewhat less surprising.
10. “People cannot have memories of things that never actually happened.”
FALSE! The creation of false memories has been repeatedly demonstrated both in the laboratory and in the real world. These “implanted memories,” which people were coerced into believing were their own memories, have ranged from being lost in a mall to having tea with Prince Charles. Astoundingly, 18 percent of police and 8 percent of the general public still believe that this is impossible.
Curiously, while overall the police officers weren’t any worse than the public at getting the answers correct, they were more confident that their beliefs were correct. Importantly, the differences between the police officers’ individual answers and the answers of the public weren’t statistically significant due to the study's tiny sample size and the effect of controlling for multiple comparisons. It’d certainly be interesting to see the study conducted on a larger scale, until then we shouldn’t draw too many conclusions about the beliefs of the police except for the fact that most people, police included, are likely largely misinformed regarding many basic facts of criminal psychology.
Reference: Chaplin, C., & Shaw, J. (2015). Confidently Wrong: Police Endorsement of Psycho-Legal Misconceptions. Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, 1-9.
Image Credit: Shutterstock
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.