The biasing impact of irrelevant contextual information on forensic odontology radiograph matching decisions

Sher Lin Chiam, Itiel E. Dror, Christian D. Huber, Denice Higgins

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1 Scopus citations


The potential biasing effect of irrelevant context information on the forensic odontology method of radiograph-based identification has never been empirically investigated despite being a recognized problem in other forensic science disciplines. This study examines the effect of irrelevant context information on the probability judgment of match (JOM) of practicing forensic odontologist and dentist participants who were asked to match pairs of dental radiographs supplemented with irrelevant case information. The irrelevant case information contained domain task-irrelevant context information which varied in strength (strong or weak). It suggested either supportive or contradictory bias relative to the actual match status of the radiograph pairs. The dental radiographs consisted of verified match and non-match radiographs pairs sampled and de-identified from actual forensic cases. Changes in accuracy and JOM between supportive and contradictory contexts conditions revealed a contextual bias. Mixed model analysis showed that strong supportive context increased the odds ratio of correct decisions by a factor of 2.4 [1.23, 4.46]; p = 0.0097. Consistent with the biasing effect, the JOM score differences between strong supportive and contradictory irrelevant context information were 1.03 and 0.43 respectively for the non-match and match decisions. The direction of context suggestion (p = 0.0067), the radiograph match status (p = 0.014), and their interactions (p = 0.0061), were all found to impact the participants’ decision. The weak context information was not strong enough to have a significant effect on accuracy or JOM scores. This study demonstrates that radiograph match judgment is affected and can be biased by strong irrelevant contextual information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number110997
JournalForensic science international
StatePublished - Oct 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law


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