The perfect match: Do criminal stereotypes bias forensic evidence analysis?

Laura Smalarz, Stephanie Madon, Yueran Yang, Max Guyll, Sarah Buck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


This research provided the first empirical test of the hypothesis that stereotypes bias evaluations of forensic evidence. A pilot study (N = 107) assessed the content and consensus of 20 criminal stereotypes by identifying perpetrator characteristics (e.g., sex, race, age, religion) that are stereotypically associated with specific crimes. In the main experiment (N = 225), participants read a mock police incident report involving either a stereotyped crime (child molestation) or a nonstereotyped crime (identity theft) and judged whether a suspect's fingerprint matched a fingerprint recovered at the crime scene. Accompanying the suspect's fingerprint was personal information about the suspect of the type that is routinely available to fingerprint analysts (e.g., race, sex) and which could activate a stereotype. Participants most often perceived the fingerprints to match when the suspect fit the criminal stereotype, even though the prints did not actually match. Moreover, participants appeared to be unaware of the extent to which a criminal stereotype had biased their evaluations. These findings demonstrate that criminal stereotypes are a potential source of bias in forensic evidence analysis and suggest that suspects who fit criminal stereotypes may be disadvantaged over the course of the criminal justice process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)420-429
Number of pages10
JournalLaw and human behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • contextual bias
  • fingerprint evidence
  • forensic analysis
  • forensic confirmation bias
  • stereotypes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Law


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