March 04, 2013

Criminal imagination

IBM precrimeIs this the real life, is this just fantasy? When should we act against disturbing imagination - I discuss the problems of deducing that somebody is a dangerous person based on their deviant or disturbing imagination.

There is a surprisingly common assumption that people will eventually act out disturbing fantasies they have. If that were true, the murder and rape rate would be astronomical. Part of it is due to evidence bias: serial rapists and killers certainly often have deviant fantasies and it comes to our notice during the court hearings, but a large fraction of normal, law-abiding nice people also have them.

Another idea is that people easily mix up reality and imagination. If that were true we should expect lots of murderous Macbeth actors. Perhaps the form of reality mixing that actually does matter is that hours per week of television viewing correlates with the fear of being a victim of crimes: the bias of media to show newsworthy stories give people availability heuristic bias to think that there is a lot of crime.

In general, we have a very simplified imaginary model of what a criminal is like, fortunately not built on real experience but on fiction. Similarly we tend to overestimate how predictable people are, especially when they are very unlike us. So we tend to overestimate the validity of profiling and underestimate the need of solid non-fantasy evidence.

Posted by Anders3 at March 4, 2013 09:42 PM