Thinking about Evidence<sup>1</sup>


in Evidence, Inference and Enquiry

Published by British Academy

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780197264843
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754050 | DOI:

Series: Proceedings of the British Academy

Thinking about Evidence1

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This chapter argues that people reason about legal evidence using small-scale qualitative networks. These cognitive networks are typically qualitative and incomplete, and based on people's causal beliefs about the specifics of the case as well as the workings of the physical and social world in general. A key feature of these networks is their ability to represent qualitative relations between hypotheses and evidence, allowing reasoners to capture the concepts of dependency and relevance critical in legal contexts. In support of this claim, the chapter introduces some novel empirical and formal work on alibi evidence, showing that people's reasoning conforms to the dictates of a qualitative Bayesian model. However, people's inferences do not always conform to Bayesian prescripts. Empirical studies are also discussed in which people over-extend the discredit of one item of evidence to other unrelated items. This bias is explained in terms of the propensity to group positive and negative evidence separately and the use of coherence-based inference mechanisms. It is argued that these cognitive processes are a natural response to deal with the complexity of legal evidence.

Keywords: reasoning; legal evidence; qualitative networks; cognitive networks; alibi evidence; Bayesian model

Chapter.  16402 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social Research and Statistics

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