How Police Analysts Use Intuition To Solve Criminal Cases?

Intuition has been a fundamental cognitive process that allows us to make quick but accurate decisions in dangerous situations. Even though we are less exposed to life-or-death situations, intuition still plays a crucial role in our everyday decision-making. When we face a problem, our brain unconsciously analyzes our experience and suggests a solution by sending high or low frequency nerve impulses, which makes us feel stressed or relaxed.

In the fifties de Groot discovered that masters in chess use intuition to make quick but accurate decisions. He discovered that through years of extensive collection of experience, chess players immediately recognize each set and make accurate moves. This was the beginning of perceiving expert intuition as a quick pattern recognition based on one’s experience.

The models for intuition-based decision making assume that people can use intuition only if; they have accurate experience, the given situation is similar to the previous ones and the decision-maker has been given accurate feedback about his/her previous decisions. Unfortunately, those models can not be applied in a system for police criminal intelligence analysts, because of a high variety of unrepeatable cases where crucial facts are missing.

I am in a research team where we build a system for police criminal intelligence analysts to support their decision-making process. My part is to discover how do they make decisions when they have no facts available and to design functions that will support this decision-making path.

In my studies to date, I have discovered that when analysts have no facts available, they use intuition. However, intuition doesn’t provide them a solution but only indicates where to search for the solution. It is because all cases differ to a large extent and the recognized information doesn’t necessarily lead to the same solution as in previous cases.

We acquire experience not only intentionally but also unconsciously and thus, it is hard to realize why do we want to focus on a given piece of data. To deal with situation when no facts are available, analyst use intuition to focus on an important piece of data and then they take a leap of faith about possible results of analysis, derived from their explicit experience. Because a given case is different from previous ones, the leap of faith only specifies direction where to search for a solution. And, while collecting more information, analysts gain insight – a form of solution that is derived from unconscious connection of one’s experience with newly acquired data.

In my research, I use the Critical Decision Method, which allows me to extract not only explicit but also implicit knowledge analysts use to solve criminal cases. My next experiment will detect the occurrence of identified unconscious processes in analysts’ brains. The final step would be to design functions that help analysts to deal with no facts. Those functions, developed by research, not intuition, would be implemented into a system used by police analysts across Europe.

About the Author

Matylda GerberMatylda Gerber is a PhD student at Middlesex University in London. She studies how police analysts solve criminal cases in absence of facts so as to design a suitable system. Her research interest is to discover what is intuition and how it helps us make better decisions, aiming to design systems more compatible with our thinking. She presented her concepts at NDM and HFES conferences in Washington, DC, US as well as at EISIC conference in Sweden. Her second part of life is playing, composing and improvising on saxophone.

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