The ‘CSI Effect’: Are potential jurors sensitive to the (un)realism of fictional forensic evidence?

Turner, Jim (2012). The ‘CSI Effect’: Are potential jurors sensitive to the (un)realism of fictional forensic evidence? In: European Association of Psychology and Law Conference 2012 (EAPL 2012), 10-13 Apr 2012, Nicosia, Cyprus.

Abstract

The ‘CSI Effect’ is a term used to describe the influence that fictional representations of forensic science may have on jurors’ expectations and perceptions of evidence in real cases. Fundamental to this is the assumption that viewers of these fictional representations assume them to be realistic, and therefore expect evidence in court to reflect that depicted in fiction. This study explores whether members of the general public are able to gauge the realism, or unrealism, of the type of representations of forensic evidence typically found in fictional crime dramas such as ‘CSI’. If they are not then this may be the basis of the CSI Effect. The study uses an online survey methodology in which respondents are presented with a number of ‘potential plot lines for a TV crime drama’ and asked how realistically they represent real-life forensic evidence. The ‘plot lines’ described are either: (1) realistic, representing the type of forensic evidence found in real criminal investigations; (2) exaggerated, representing realistic techniques but with greater accuracy or certainty than is possible in real cases; or (3) unrealistic, representing evidence that could not be obtained in a real criminal investigation and/or investigative techniques which are scientifically impossible. The extent to which respondents are, or are not, sensitive to the realism of representations of forensic evidence is discussed in the context of both ‘defence-biased’ and ‘prosecution-biased’ types of CSI Effect. The impact of the respondents’ self-reported TV viewing behaviour and science education is also considered.

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