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They should have known: Hindsight and outcome biases in child abduction cases
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Child abductions have received wide spread public attention, much of which is sensationalized. In response, the AMBER Alert system was created.This system was designed to inform the public of information about the child and abductor to assist in the child’s safe recovery. Despite limitations of the system, AMBER Alerts remain in public favor. Two biases that might account for this public favor are hindsight bias and outcome bias. Hindsight bias is a cognitive error in which people with outcome knowledge overestimate the likelihood that this particular outcome would occur; outcome bias is an error made in evaluating the quality of a decision once the outcome is known. Two experiments assessed whether hindsight and outcome bias occur in child abduction scenarios. Study 1 was a pre/post test experiment that examined whether hindsight bias occurs in situations in which the identity of the abductor (stranger or parent) is manipulated between groups, and all participants are told the child was killed. Study 2, a between subjects experiment, examined whether hindsight and outcome biases occur in situations in which no AMBER Alert was issued (because the situation did not meet the legal requirements to issue an Alert), and manipulated the identity of the abductor and the outcome (child safely returned, killed, or not outcome provided). Results from the two studies indicate that both hindsight bias and outcome bias occur given the correct set of circumstances. Implications for the AMBER Alert system are discussed.