Dateline: September, 2006

What effect does the use of computer animation have on jurors’ perception of a traffic accident?

The law requires jurors to judge the facts on the basis of what a defendant knew at the time of a traffic accident, not on the basis of information knowable only in hindsight (i.e., after the fact).

Recent research has demonstrated that computer animations of traffic accidents make it more difficult for jurors to judge the facts only on the basis of what a defendant knew at the time of a traffic accident.

In a study by Roese et al. (2006), computer animations of traffic accidents that had been prepared for an actual court case, as opposed to text-plus-diagram descriptions, more than doubled the hindsight bias of 117 undergraduate students acting as mock jurors.  Said differently, the computer animations made it twice as hard for mock jurors to reconstruct the accident from the perspective of the driver in “real time,” disregarding knowledge of the outcome of the accident.

The study’s authors also comment that the clarity of computer animation can obscure the underlying uncertainty of accident reconstruction, creating a biased feeling of knowing.

Source Roese, N. J., Fessel, F., Summerville, A., Kruger, J. & Dilich, M.A. (2006).  The propensity effect: When foresight trumps hindsight. Psychological Science, 17, pp. 305-310.