Science Public Policy News

"Funny Feelings" Focus of Department of Justice Workshop

While a few of the scientists were quite skeptical that the phenomenon of intuition existed (even if it could be relabeled as "complex pattern recognition"), most agreed it was worth examining further.

By Geoff Mumford

For a day and a half at the end of June passersby may have had a hunch that something exciting was happening at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. Or more to the point, they might have had a gut feeling that a group of august researchers were partnering with a who's who of the law enforcement and intelligence communities to talk about the phenomenology of "intuition"…because that's precisely what happened.

Dutiful readers of PSA may recall that within days of 9/11/01, APA's Science Directorate put out a call to the research community to help us think through the myriad ways that psychological science might be relevant to counter-terrorism initiatives. When it became clear that there were a number of issues relevant to security, intelligence and law enforcement operations that might be informed by research, we began to nurture relationships with agencies beyond just those that fund research to include those that might use such research in applied settings. Inspired by then-Senior Scientist, Susan Brandon, a series of workshops with the theme of "integrating theory and practice" was born.

As with other workshops in this series, "The Nature and Influence of Intuition in Law Enforcement: Integration of Theory and Practice" drew upon experiential scenarios developed by staff of the Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, VA. The scenarios were distributed in advance of the meeting to stimulate discussion during breakout sessions at the workshop. The goal of the workshop was really to develop a research agenda. While a few of the scientists were quite skeptical that the phenomenon of intuition existed (even if it could be relabeled as "complex pattern recognition"), most agreed it was worth examining further. And consistent with our experience in pulling together these forums, those from the operational community and those from the research community were quite willing to roll up their sleeves and listen respectfully to divergent points of view. On the first day, the 50 participants were divided amongst 6 breakout groups to independently consider a range of scenarios meant to help identify instances of intuition. The scenarios and other background information can be found on the Sciency Policy website.

We then regrouped to discuss summaries of those breakout group discussions. APA member Robert Kinscherff kindly agreed to serve as facilitator throughout the workshop and was masterful at keeping the group on task. Susan Brandon, now the Assistant Director of Social, Behavioral and Educational Sciences at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), served as co-organizer of the workshop and worked into the night to provide a summary PowerPoint presentation for the following day. Then as a means to help identify a concrete research agenda, Bryan Vila, Chief of the Crime Control and Prevention Research Division at the National Institute of Justice within the Department of Justice (DoJ), compiled a list of questions that may be used to stimulate programmatic activity, either at DoJ or within the intelligence community. We expect that a more detailed summary of the workshop will be published in a future edition of the Law Enforcement Bulletin.

The assembled expertise included law enforcement, intelligence, and research community participation from Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Canada as well as the four corners of the United States, and we are extremely grateful to NIJ and the FBI Academy's Behavioral Science Unit for jointly funding the workshop and helping us to bring psychological research to bear on yet another set of topical issues related to both are national and homeland security interests.