Should I Follow My Instincts During An Investigation?

The investigator has one job: to find the objective truth of what happened.

Investigators, new and experienced, all take this mission to heart, but I’ve learned most investigators have never been taught to be aware of their feelings and beliefs about a case. I hear it all the time from both novice and seasoned investigators: “I have a feeling this person is lying to me” or “I just don’t feel like they did it.” I always hear comments like “I think this is what happened” or “I’ve seen this happen before, and I believe this person did this or that.”

I think many investigators think feelings and beliefs are tools that will assist them during an investigation. Some of these investigators are sincere in their quest for the truth, while others are more confident and brazen. I will tell you a hard truth, though, no court, judge, or investigative supervisor cares about what you feel or believe happened. They only care what the evidence says happened.

Mainstream media has glorified the investigator who acts on instincts and hunches. They perpetuate the false notion that one should “pay attention to their gut” when solving a case. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Feelings and emotions are notorious for being inaccurate precisely because they are based on personal bias, prejudices, and preconceptions. Don’t believe me? Take a critical thinking course and watch how fast science slaughters the idea that your instincts have any validity. They will lead you astray, as any defense attorney worth their salt will immediately show you in court.

Though based on cognition, beliefs also fall prey to the natural limitations of human psychology. While opinions can be supported by evidence, they can also sidetrack an investigation by causing investigators to subconsciously seek information that backs their personal and predetermined beliefs rather than lead them to what transpired during an event.

As critical thinking teaches - the mind does not seek the truth; it seeks only to prove what it already believes to be true.

Evidence has nothing to do with beliefs or emotions. It just is what it is, independent of personal interjections or interpretations about what this evidence means to us. Our job, as investigators, is to set aside our feelings and beliefs, focusing on gathering information that is independent of personal valuation.

If you want to be a good investigator:

  1. Focus on gathering evidence without feeling the need to interpret it prematurely.
  2. Let the evidence build the case, and be careful not to let your own biases, whether cognitive or emotional, affect your interpretation of the data.
  3. Stay out of your own way and focus your energy on observing, not predicting.

There is no value or validity to your personal feelings and beliefs. If this feels wrong to you, then either put your ego in check or accept that you’ll never be a great investigator. I know that sounds harsh, but I say this to motivate you to become a stronger investigator. If you take yourself out of the equation, your findings will be more accurate, every time.

The good news is that it is never too late to update your investigative strategy and process. I urge you to take a critical thinking course and reevaluate your investigative methods. If you are willing to do this, you will place yourself well ahead of the pack.

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