Should Fingerprint Examiners Make More Erroneous Identifications?

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Willa Mannering


This study was conducted as a response to the concerns about the consequences of latent fingerprint examinations. The goal is to determine if society’s moral values align with the current bias towards erroneous exclusion decisions over erroneous identification decisions found in latent print examinations. Subjects of this experiment were asked to manipulate a webbased visualization that reflects the tradeoffs between putting guilty people in jail and keeping innocent people out of jail. The results of the experiment were analyzed to determine the similarities and differences between the opinions of fingerprint examiners and the opinions of students and members of the general public. In practice, examiners adopt more conservative decision criteria, because they could lose their job if they put an innocent person in jail. According to the results of this study, examiners seem to have a much more liberal exclusion criterion than they actually do in casework, and the public seems willing to tolerate a higher amount of erroneous identifications in exchange for a lower erroneous exclusion rate based on their average criteria placement in the visualization. The results of this study will help examiners align their responses to those of society, and help all citizens understand the tradeoffs that can occur with shifting decision criteria. If the results of the study indicate the need to shift the decision criteria to put more criminals in jail, additional safeguards may be necessary to guard against innocent people going to jail. Thus this dataset represents a rich framework for measuring, interpreting, and responding to the values and beliefs of what constitutes a just and moral society.


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How to Cite
Mannering, W. (2017). Should Fingerprint Examiners Make More Erroneous Identifications?. IU Journal of Undergraduate Research, 3(1), 66–75.
Social Sciences
Author Biography

Willa Mannering, Indiana University

Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Cognitive Science Program, Junior standing


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