gearm001: November 2011 Archives

Criminal Profiling

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I love Jack McCoy.
Fun Fact: He is the only DA tough enough to convict Chuck Norris.
When he was an ADA on Law and Order (side note: The original is the only watchable version. You have a right to like the spin-offs, but you are wrong in that right.) McCoy will sometimes call on a psychologist to take the stand against a defendant. When no insanity plea is used by the defendant, the psychologist is being used as a criminal profiler. The profiler is giving his expert opinion as to the personality and thought process of the criminal, maybe even describing some phsyical features.

The problem is that criminal profiling tends to be subject to the P.T. Barnum effect. "The P.T. Barnum effect is the tendency of people to accept high base rate descriptions-descriptions that apply to almost everyone-as accurate" (Lilienfeld, 574). In a courtroom, the jury wouldn't buy a vague description of a criminal as "angry" or "disturbed", because most people could venture a guess that someone who acts outside the law as being "angry" or "disturbed".

In all reality, criminal profiling is at best a guess. A study by Homant & Kennedy in 1998 (Lilienfeld, 575) agrees. The study showed that professional profilers were no better at distinguishing peronsality traits of murderers than untrained, college students. As other studies have replicated these findings, it is strange that criminal organizations still train profilers.

Even if his criminal profiler is a bust, Jack McCoy will still win the case. (Dun Dun!)

Most people know how truth serum is supposed to work: bad guy is lying, good guy forces him to drink truth serum, and bad guy spills the evil plot to take over Nakatomi Plaza. While words like amobarbital and sodium pentothal sound like scary compounds that could induce the truth, they are nothing more barbiturates, a fancy class of drugs very similar to alcohol. For the Fratellis and bad guys everywhere, there is little to fear about truth serum.

Numerous studies have shown that people can lie when given truth serum. Those studies falsify the claim that truth serum produces truthful statements. Some evidence points to truth serum simply increasing how talkative someone is, but creates the problem of decifering facts from fiction. The 'truth' is that truth serum doesn't enchance memory in any way. Truth serum is as reliable as asking 'Zoltar Speaks' to reveal the truth.

The studies make sense, given the fact that barbiturates are very similar to alcohol. Even in large quantites, alcohol rarely reveals secrets more important than 'Harry thinks Sally is attractive' or 'I am your father'. We are just as likely to lie and tell the truth under both circumstances.

In my opinion, a more effect way to get the truth out of people is to give them Saturday detention for eight hours and fifty four minutes.

Ref: pg 421, 191.

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