New York, Sep 24 :
Where people look when watching video evidence varies wildly and has profound consequences for bias in legal punishment decisions, found a team of researchers.
In a series of experiments, participants who viewed videotaped altercations formed biased punishment decisions about a defendant the more they looked at him.
Participants punished a defendant more severely if they did not identify with his social group and punished him less severely if they felt connected to the group – but only when they looked at the defendant often.
“Our findings show that video evidence is not evaluated objectively – in fact, it may even spur our existing biases,” explained Emily Balcetis, an assistant professor from the department of psychology at New York University.
“With the proliferation of surveillance footage and other video evidence, coupled with the legal system’s blind faith in information that we can see with our own eyes, we need to proceed with caution,” Balcetis added.
Video evidence is seductive, but it will not necessarily help our understanding of cases, especially when it is unclear who is at fault, researchers noted.
In the first experiment with 152 participants, researchers gauged the participants’ identification with police.
The results showed that participants’ identification with the police officer influenced punishment decisions only if they focused their visual attention on the law-enforcement official.
In a second experiment, the same participants viewed another video depicting an altercation between a police officer and a civilian – one in which culpability, verified by an independent panel of participants, was ambiguous.
Close attention to the videotape enhanced participants’ pre-existing biases of police rather than diminishing them.
One might think that the more closely you look at videotape, the more likely you are to view its contents objectively.
“But that is not the case – in fact, the more you look, the more you find evidence that confirms your assumptions about a social group, in this case police,” Balcetis noted.
The results showed that close visual attention enhanced biased interpretations of what transpired and influenced punishment decisions.
The research appears in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.