Breaking NEWz you can UzE...
compiled by Jon Stimac
Scottish Print Bureau ‘Still Cannot Be Trusted' –
SUNDAY HERALD, UK
- Mar 20, 2005 ...despite
official praise, independent expert damns continued bad practice...
'CSI' Effect or Just Flimsy Evidence? –
PITTSBURGH POST GAZETTE, PA - Mar 20,
2005 ...the Blake case raises the
issue of whether forensic shows influence how much proof is needed...
Hot Clue Solves a Cold Case –
NEW BRITAIN HERALD, CT - Mar 16, 2005
...the process of dusting involves
coating the print with powder, bringing out the distinctive shapes
of an individual’s fingerprint..
Fingerprint Company, State Create Positive ID –
THE NEWS TRIBUNE, WA - Mar 15, 2005
...a 1987 state law essentially
requires all other law enforcement agencies in WA to use a system
supplied by the WSP’s California-based vendor...
this is the last full week to renew your annual IAI membership status, or you
will be dropped! Renewing membership is really easy... actually, I just
did mine in less than 3 minutes. Just go to the website,
www.theiai.org, click on the link on the
right side of the screen "renew your IAI membership online", and fill out your
membership number, name, and credit card information in the secure submission
form. That's it! Let's flood them with renewals right now, today,
for those of you who procrastinated like me. *smile
Additionally, if you are interested in presenting a short lecture on a latent
print related topic, Jim Gettemy is still accepting presentation applications.
Click on the "Call for Papers" icon on the right side of the website,
www.theiai.org and fill out an application
as soon as possible.
I am looking for someone interested in further exploring a digital photography /
Adobe Photoshop concept applied to latent print analysis. The concept is
High Dynamic Range Radiance Maps applied to low contrast and shifted contrast
images, and I have some preliminary information on this topic. Acceptance
of this task would require experimenting with this technique on fingerprint
images using Adobe Photoshop layers and associated functions, and writing a
Weekly Detail on your research, along with before and after images and
recommendations for implementation (or non-implementation) in casework. I
will publish the initial concept and theory information in a Detail in the near
future, but I would like someone to be working on the project portion of this
research during that same time period. If you are interested, contact me
for more information.
In December, two Details by Steve Scarborough and Iain McKie related different
positions on an article in the CAC News entitled "Fingerprints in Print".
Last week, CAC News published both CLPEX Detail responses in their entirety, as
well as a "Fingerprints in Print Sequel" article that comments on the Mayfield
case and the ACE-V methodology. The new CAC article is available online
Pay particular attention to the excellent image of Galton in the middle of the
CAC article. In fact, this has nothing to do with the text, and instead
goes with a neat story on page 5 on Jennifer Hannaford of the Oakland Police
Department. She has put together some excellent artistic renderings of
fingerprint pioneers using her fingerprint as the paint brush. Check out
her amazing paintings on her website, (http://www.printsinprint.com).
Last week, Greg Laskowski
shared his perspective on the CSI effect. If you are interested in this
subject, and you are attending the IAI conference in Dallas, Greg will be
leading a discussion panel on this topic.
This week, it is my privilege to re-print (with permissions, of course) an
article from Applied Cognitive Psychology:
When emotions get the better of us: The
effect of contextual top-down processing on matching fingerprints
Itiel E. Dror, Ailsa Peron, Sara-Lynn Hind, and
Twenty-seven participants made a total of 2,484 judgments whether a pair of
fingerprints matched or not. A quarter of the trials acted as a control
condition. The rest of the trials included top-down influences aimed at biasing
the participants to find a match. These manipulations included emotional
background stories of crimes and explicitly disturbing photographs from crime
scenes, as well as subliminal messages. The data revealed that participants were
affected by the top-down manipulations and as a result were more likely to make
match judgments. However, the increased likelihood of making match judgments was
limited to ambiguous fingerprints. The top-down manipulations were not able to
contradict clear non-matching fingerprints. Hence, such contextual information
actively biases the ways gaps are filled, but was not sufficient to override
clear bottom-up information.
When emotions get the better of us: The effect of contextual
top-down processing on matching fingerprints
The need to identify people accurately is wide spread and is on a sharp rise.
With advances in science and technology a variety of tools are now available for
identifying people. Nevertheless, fingerprints continue to be the major method
used for identification in forensic and other domains (Alam, Akhteruzzaman, &
Cherri, 2004). Fingerprints are quite easy to find, collect, and process; and
they are also relatively non-intrusive and cost effective. With the development
and increased use of computer technology in searching very large amounts of
fingerprints held in databases, fingerprints are likely to continue to be the
major method for biometric identification, and we can perhaps even expect its
use to increase further.
The strength of fingerprint identification also derives from perceived
reliability. The use of fingerprints has evolved over a long period of time and
for over 100 years fingerprints have been used quite successfully as a means of
identification. The reliability of fingerprint evidence stems from applied
scientific knowledge of the uniqueness of friction ridge skin within the fields
of biology, embryology, and genetics. During all this time there has not been a
single reported case of two people having identical fingerprints (even identical
twins have differentiated fingerprints). Fingerprint identification seems to
have withstood the test of time and proven itself as a sound and authoritative
tool. Consistent with the above, research has shown that fingerprint evidence
affects the perceived innocence or guilt of defendants (Bregman & McAllister,
However, in recent years the reliability of fingerprint identification has
come into question and is under close scrutiny (Cole, 1999; Dror, Charlton, &
Peron, 2004; Moenssens, 2003). A publicly exposed erroneous identification has
highlighted a shortfall of fingerprint identification. In this case an
individual was wrongly linked to the Madrid bombing based on a fingerprint match
found by the Latent Print Unit (LPU) of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
(FBI) in the United States. A number of experts, including an independent
examiner appointed by the court upon the request of the defendant, all confirmed
the initial finding of a match. However, a few weeks after arresting the
suspect, this match was proved to be false and he was released (for more
details, see full report on this erroneous identification, Stacey, 2004). This
is only one of a handful of cases that has been publicly exposed and
acknowledged. Such cases are only found and exposed under extremely unique and
rare circumstances, and it is unreasonable to believe that other erroneous
identifications have not occurred.
The research reported here attempts to examine some of the processes involved
in fingerprint identification and factors that may interfere with these
processes. Fingerprint identification involves a decision making process. This
process requires making a decision as to whether or not a pair of fingerprints
match (for example, whether a fingerprint lifted off a crime scene matches that
of a potential suspect). Such decisions, as with many other cognitive processes,
are composed from two main components: First, the bottom-up component which is
purely data driven (see for example, Ashworth & Dror, 2000); and the second is
the top-down component in which contextual effects mediate how the input is
processed, evaluated, and a final decision is derived (see for example, Dror &
Busemeyer, 1999; Levy, Dror, & Ashman, 2000).
As per the bottom-up component, each fingerprint is composed of a pattern
which is believed to be individually unique. A close examination at three
different levels can help decide if fingerprints match or not. The first level
examines the overall pattern of friction ridges; the second level examines the
characteristics of specific ridges; and the third level zooms in to examine
things such as locations and distribution of sweat pores, individual ridge
topology, and other uniquely identifiable features.
The examination of such bottom-up information means that if a decision can be
made, it would constitute compelling identification evidence (or lack thereof).
In an ideal world, such decisions would seem to be rather simple and relatively
easy to make: either there is, or there is not, a match. However, in the real
world many fingerprints are far from perfect. They are often degraded and
partially missing and are often distorted by the substrate upon which the latent
print was deposited as well as the constituents that make up the essence of the
latent print, such as sweat, oil, grease, and other contaminants.
In fact --even in an ideal world-- should an individual provide many sets of
fingerprints one after the other, even then they would not be 100% identical
(the varying pressure on the skin’s elasticity, among other things, would
produce slightly different prints). Since no pair of fingerprints are 100%
identical, one needs to decide if they are similar enough to determine that they
originated from the same individual. In many cases the information contained in
the prints (especially those collected at a crime scene) is not enough to enable
a sound decision (Ashbaugh, 1999). Although fingerprint matching is a complex
and challenging pattern recognition problem, it is important, if not imperative,
that decisions are accurate. This becomes even a more monumental task when you
take into account top-down processes involved in pattern recognition.
The other component involved in deciding whether there is a fingerprint match
is top-down processing. A top-down component occurs when the processing of
incoming bottom-up information is mediated by a variety of factors, such as
prior experience and knowledge, as well as the person’s expectations and
emotional state. Top-down processing can facilitate the processing of
information by making it more efficient and faster (for example, help direct
attention to important features in object recognition, e.g., Dror & Kosslyn,
1998). It can also help interpret ambiguous information (Selfridge, 1955) or
fill in missing information (for example, the phoneme restoration effect e.g.,
However, in some cases top-down influences are so pronounced that they can
even override the ‘objective’ information coming in as input from the bottom-up
component (for example, different top-down information leads to contradicting
judgments on the same bottom-up data, e.g., Darley & Gross, 1983). Thus,
top-down components can interfere and distort the ‘objective’ processing and
evaluation of incoming data. Top-down is a term that encompasses a very wide
range of phenomena, such as expectation, hope, context, knowledge, emotional
state, and mind set, to name but a few. Indeed, ‘mind set’ has been identified
as one of the main contributors to the FBI erroneous identification (Stacey,
A large body of research demonstrates that the emotional state of the
individual plays a critical role in how they interpret information, and
specifically that their interpretations correspond to their emotional state
(Byrne & Eysenck, 1993; Eysenck, Macleod, & Mathews, 1987; Halberstadt,
Niedenthal, & Kushner, 1995; Niedenthal, Halberstadt, & Setterlund, 1997; Pincus,
Pearce, & Perrott, 1996; Richards, Reynolds, & French, 1993). Many of these
studies involved looking at lexical ambiguity and revealed that both state
anxiety and trait anxiety were linked with increased tendencies to adopt
negative interpretations (Byrne & Eysenck, 1993; Richards et al., 1993; Russo,
Patterson, Roberson, Stevenson, & Upward, 1996). In addition to verbal stimuli,
similar findings linking emotional states to associated interpretations of
stimuli have been found using facial expressions (Niedenthal, Halberstadt,
Margolin, & Innes-Ker, 2000; Richards, French, Calder, Webb, Fox, & Young,
2002), interpersonal situations (Hirsch & Matthews, 1997), and even physical
sensations (Calvo & Eysenck, 1998).
Given that fingerprint matching occurs frequently within a highly emotional
context of forensic evidence associated with finding those who committed crimes,
it is important to examine how emotional states may affect fingerprint
identification. There has not been any research examining top-down influences on
fingerprint matching. However, research has shown that presenting gruesome
evidence does influence the verdicts of mock jurors (e.g., Bright & Goodman-Delahunty,
In the research reported here we examined people’s decisions on matching
fingerprints. We observed if and how their decisions were influenced by top-down
information. We manipulated their emotional state and motivation to find a
fingerprint match by providing background information and by subliminal priming.
We were interested to see if such top-down manipulations can affect their
decisions, and to what extent.
We manipulated both the level of top-down influence and the actual difficulty
of the task. The main manipulation of the top-down component was achieved by
introducing information about the background of the crime where the fingerprint
was collected and by including explicit and emotionally provoking photographs.
To further strengthen our top-down effect we also introduced subliminal priming
by flashing the words “guilty” and “same”. This was to examine the general
vulnerability of the matching process to top-down external influences. Our task
difficulty was manipulated to examine the possible strength of the top-down
component. As the match become more difficult, more room was available for the
top-down process to make an impact. Hence we included varying levels of
ambiguity in the bottom-up information that was provided to the decision makers.
Participants The participants in this study were 27 volunteers, with a
mean age of 23 (9 were males and 18 were females).
Materials and Apparatus Fingerprints: Ninety-six pairs of
fingerprints were selected from a large fingerprint database (Maltoni, Maio,
Jain, & Prabhakar, 2003). This database enabled us to use an established set of
stimuli to construct our experimental conditions: Half of the stimuli (48 pairs
of the fingerprints) provided clear and detailed bottom-up information and hence
were relatively easy to decide; 24 of them presented a perfect match whereas in
the other 24 pairs of fingerprints it was clear that they did not match (see
Figure 1 for examples). The other half of the stimuli (the remaining 48 pairs of
fingerprints) was not as complete and detailed and hence did not provide
sufficient bottom-up information to make a clear decision (see Figure 2 for an
example). We included these ambiguous pairs of fingerprints for two main
reasons. First, it was for ecological validity; many fingerprints in real world
applied settings are far from perfect. Second, weakening the bottom-up
information may allow the top-down component more room to influence the process.
Background information: We invoked two emotional states (low and high) by
exposing the participants to background stories and photographs. The background
for the low emotional state included stories about bicycle theft, burglary, and
other relatively common crimes that do not include physical harm to a person.
The high emotional evoking stories included a variety of crimes, such as murder,
personal attacks, and other cases where there is a victim who is seriously hurt.
To further induce the emotional state we included photographs from the crime
scene (Figure 3 not posted in this re-print). For the low emotional state there
were photos of the items that were stolen. For the high emotional states we
included highly emotional photographs of victims. The photographs were obtained
from a standardized set of photos (the Affective Photographic Gallery (Lang,
Bradley, & Cuthbert, 1996)). These photos have been widely used in research and
have been established as evoking emotional states. Subliminal: To further
increase the strength of our top-down bias to find a match we included
subliminal messages. Following established paradigms (Levy, Ashman, & Dror,
2000) we made ‘guilty’ and ‘same’ messages to present to participants to try and
induce them to find a match to convict a suspect. Apparatus: The
experiment was programmed using the experimental software Cedrus Superlab Pro.
Participants were tested on an IBM computer with a 17 inch monitor.
Design: All participants were tested in all conditions. There were 2
levels of stimuli difficulty (ambiguous vs. unambiguous) and 4 levels of
top-down influence (a control with no emotional influence, low emotion stories
and photographs, high emotion stories and photographs, and the highest level of
top-down influence that includes the high emotion stories and photographs as
well as subliminal messages in addition). The dependent variables were the
number of matches made in each condition (i.e. number of times the participant
made a ‘same’ decision).
Procedure: Each participant was tested individually and was presented
with 96 trials. Each trial contained a pair of fingerprints. For the blocks of
trials that included the top-down manipulations, participants were presented
with the stories and photographs prior to showing them the pair of fingerprints.
For the trials that included subliminal priming, the words ‘guilty’ and ‘same’
were flashed on the screen for 88ms after the emotional stories and photographs
were presented and right before the fingerprints were presented.
For each pair of fingerprints, the participants were asked to decide if the
fingerprints in the pair were the same or different, and to respond as quickly
as possible. The participants responded by pressing the appropriate keys on the
computer keyboard (either the ‘b’ key which was labeled ‘same’ or the ‘n’ key
which was labeled ‘different’). Each pair of fingerprints was presented
simultaneously, and remained on computer screen until the participant made a
‘same’ or ‘different’ decision, at which point the next trial appeared on
Initially participants were given practice trials consisting of 6 pairs of
fingerprints, and asked to decide if the prints in the pair were the ‘same’ or
‘different.’ Once the participants responded to a practice trial, the correct
answer (i.e. ‘same’ or ‘different’) would appear on the screen before the next
pair was displayed.
After the practice trials, the participants began the actual experiment. No
feedback was given during the actual experiment. The 96 pairs of fingerprints
were divided to 4 blocks of trials. Each block contained 12 unambiguous pairs (6
were a ‘match’ and 6 were a ‘no match’) and 12 ambiguous pairs of fingerprints.
Within each block, the fingerprints were presented in random order. The
experimental blocks themselves were not randomized, to avoid emotions crossing
between trials where by highly emotional states will transfer and affect low
emotional states and control trials. Thus, it was unwarranted to randomize the
order of the blocks, but the trials within the blocks were randomized. To
summarize, the first block of 24 trials included all the control decisions that
had no top-down component. Then the second block of 24 trials included the low
emotional manipulation of top-down influence, followed by the third block of 24
trials with the high emotional manipulation. Then finally we presented the
fourth block of 24 trials which included the high emotional manipulation along
with the subliminal messages of ‘guilty’ and ‘same’.
A two-way Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) was carried out with Stimuli Type
(ambiguous vs. non-ambiguous) and Top-Down Manipulation (control, low emotion,
high emotion, and high emotion + subliminal) as within variables. Of main
interest was a significant interaction we found between Stimuli Type and
Top-Down Manipulation (F(3,78)= 8.172, p<0.001). This interaction reflected that
the Top-Down Manipulation affected decisions on matching fingerprints, but that
this effect varied with the different Stimuli Type. There were no significant
main effects for Stimuli Type and Top-Down Manipulation (p> .05) by themselves.
In order to understand better the source of the interaction, we subjected
each one of the Stimuli Type to a separate ANOVA. The analysis of the
unambiguous fingerprints revealed that participants correctly found matches in
50%, 54%, 51%, and 46% of the time, respectively for the control, low emotion,
high emotion, and high emotion + subliminal Top-Down Manipulations (and
correctly identifying the non-matching pairs in the remaining trials,
respectively). Thus participants correctly distinguished between the match and
non-match fingerprints. Furthermore, the unambiguous data did not differ across
these experimental manipulations, and hence was of no further interest by
When we examined the ambiguous Stimuli Type, where there was no objectively
correct response, a different picture emerged. We found a significant effect
(F(3,78) = 6.247, p<0.001), with matches differing across the experimental
manipulations. Participants found a match in 47%, 49%, 58%, and 66% of the
trials, respectively for the control, low emotion, high emotion, and high
emotion + subliminal Top-Down Manipulations. These analyses together reflected
the source of the interaction we found in our overall analysis; namely, that
decisions only varied with the Top-Down Manipulation when judgments were made on
the ambiguous Stimuli Type.
In order to determine the nature of the significant differences within the
ambiguous Stimuli Type, repeated t-tests were carried out across the four
Top-Down Manipulation conditions. The t-tests revealed that the low emotion
condition did not affect decisions, as we found no significant difference
between decisions made in the control condition and those made in the low
emotion Top-Down condition, p> .05 (47% was comparable to 49%). However, there
was a significant difference between the control condition and the high emotion
condition (t= -2.057, df= 26, two-tailed= 0.050), reflecting that participants
were more likely to find a match when subjected to the high emotion Top-Down
Manipulation (47% vs. 58%). Furthermore, the addition of subliminal messages to
the high emotion condition produced even higher levels of matches (66%), which
was also reflected in the focused t-test, (t= -2.687, df= 26, two-tailed=
The aim of the current study was to investigate the possible effects of
top-down processing in interfering with bottom-up identification of
fingerprints. We focused on emotion and subliminal messages as our top-down
manipulations for three reasons.
First, both are present in many of the applied real world forensic settings
where fingerprints are matched. In these settings background information is
available to the decision makers. This information may have emotional impact
(such as the nature of the crime and the victims) and may also include
subliminal messages (such as non verbal biases communicated by colleagues and
superiors, as well as additional evidence that points towards the suspect).
Second, past cognitive research has shown that both of our manipulations may
affect decision making. Emotion-congruent effects and subliminal messages have
shown in a number of domains (but not in the context of fingerprint matching)
that they can alter how we process information, what we see, and our decision
making process (e.g., Byrne & Eysenck, 1993; Darley & Gross, 1983; Hirsch &
Mathews, 1997; Murphy & Zajonc, 1993).
Third, they are relatively easy to control, quantify, and administer in a
laboratory condition. Hence, our manipulations of emotion and subliminal
messages as our top-down conditions seemed to capture a number of important
applied, theoretical, and practical considerations.
Using our top-down manipulations we wanted to examine whether they can affect
decisions in matching fingerprints. Furthermore, if they are able to make such
an impact, we were interested to see the potential strength and scope of this
The results of this study demonstrated that emotion and subliminal messages
did influence decision making. Specifically that top-down influences can
interfere with people’s decisions in matching fingerprints. However, our
findings show that this top-down effect is limited in scope and strength. When
the fingerprints were a clear match (or no match) then the top-down component
was not able to override the bottom-up input information (see Pylyshyn, 1984,
for a full discussion of cognitive penetrability).
Our findings did show that when the fingerprints to be matched were
ambiguous, the top-down component had effects on the decisions being made. Thus,
the top-down component was able to bias how gaps are filled but did not have the
power to override clear bottom-up incoming information. Top-down components may
well be able to override and contradict clear bottom-up information, but this
may only occur under very specific circumstances.
With the growing use of technology in fingerprint identification, some claim
that such human biases and weakness will be reduced, if not eliminated
altogether. Although technology is an important ally in fingerprint matching,
the issues addressed in this study, as well as other psychological/cognitive
issues, will continue to exist and even increase. In the foreseeable future
computers will be able to judge whether a pair of fingerprints match or not. But
computers will only be able to make good judgments with confident high levels of
accuracy when both prints are of high quality and in very good condition. Human
experts will continue to be needed in the foreseeable future to deal with prints
that are partial, distorted, not clear, contaminated, or not-ideal in any
Furthermore, the growing use of computer technology in fingerprint matching
gives rise to giant databases that contain larger and larger samples of
fingerprints (e.g., approaching 10 million in the UK system and 100 million in
the USA system). With such large samples, the relative similarity (and hence
difficulty in matching fingerprints) will increase (Ashworth & Dror, 2000). The
data reported in this study demonstrates that with greater difficulty in the
bottom-up matching of the prints, greater opportunity and vulnerability is
created for the top-down contextual components to influence and interfere.
Our study is the first step in examining how top-down influences may
interfere with (or enhance) fingerprint matching. Once these influences are
understood, then better ways to avoid them (or utilize them) can be developed.
If we deny their existence, rather than acknowledge and study them, then we will
not be able to deal with or manage them appropriately. In our study we first
wanted to establish that top-down possessing can indeed influence decisions
about fingerprint identification. Now that this has been demonstrated further
research will need to address two main lines of research.
First, a more careful scrutiny of the interaction between top-down and
bottom-up information in the domain of fingerprint identification is required.
In our study we included the more extreme manipulations and design to see if
such influences will have any effect on how fingerprints are matched. For
example, we combined subliminal messages with emotional state, without
scrutinizing the possible effects of subliminal messages on their own.
In this study we did not give the participants an option to respond ‘cannot
decide,’ they had to state either a ‘match’ or a ‘no match’. This, of course,
may underlie our findings and have important implications to real world forensic
fingerprint matching. What we have done in this study is to demonstrate the
existence of an effect in which top-down components interfere with fingerprint
identification and future research is needed to further elucidate this effect.
Second, our findings need to be examined within the context of routine
everyday work of fingerprint experts. The training, experience, and work
procedures of fingerprint experts may play an interesting and crucial role in if
and how top-down components play a role in fingerprint identification. On the
one hand, fingerprint experts may be less susceptible to top-down interference,
perhaps even immune, to such effects. Given their highly specialized skills,
they may be able to focus solely on the bottom-up component and be data driven
without the external influences that we have observed in the research reported
here. On the other hand, and in contrast, fingerprint experts may be even more
susceptible to such top-down components. Their vast knowledge and experience may
provide them with extra degrees of freedom to rationalize and justify what they
are biased to find by the top-down components. Research has demonstrated that
professional police officers are susceptible to attentional biases caused by
top-down influences as much as novices (Eberhardt, Goff, Purdie, & Davis, 2004).
Further research can address these theoretical and applied issues.
Acknowledgements: We would like to thank Stephen Mewett for his support and
encouragement, and Dan Wright, Norah Rudin, and two anonymous reviewers for
Notes: Send all correspondence to: Itiel Dror,
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Figure 1. Example of “Unambiguous” pairs
1-a) “unambiguos” non-match
1-b) “unambiguous” match
Figure 2. Example of an Ambiguous pair
Figure 3: not posted
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