Published on: Friday, February 19, 2021

Forensic pathologists’ decisions are critical in police investigations and court proceedings as they determine whether an unnatural death of a young child was an accident or homicide (report abstract available here).

"Does cognitive bias affect forensic pathologists’ decision‐making? To address this question, we examined all death certificates issued during a 10‐year period in the State of Nevada in the United States for children under the age of six. We also conducted an experiment with 133 forensic pathologists in which we tested whether knowledge of irrelevant non‐medical information that should have no bearing on forensic pathologists’ decisions influenced their manner of death determinations. The dataset of death certificates indicated that forensic pathologists were more likely to rule "homicide" rather than "accident" for deaths of Black children relative to White children."

Report highlights include:

  • Two data sets revealing cognitive bias in forensic pathologists’ decisions about manner of death.
  • Death certificate data show racial disparity in judging child deaths as homicide vs. accidental.
  • Experimental data reveal forensic pathology contextual bias by irrelevant non‐medical information.
  • Both data sets show extraneous information, for example, race, cognitively biasing forensic pathologists.
  • Cognitively informed training and policies must be in place to minimize forensic pathology biases.