Interpreting claims in offender profiles: the role of probability phrases, base‐rates and perceived dangerousness


Offender profilers use verbal and numerical probability expressions to convey uncertainty surrounding claims made about offender’s characteristics. No previous research has examined how these expressions might affect the recipient’s interpretation of the information. Seventy participants completed an online questionnaire and results showed a diverse range of interpretations of these uncertainty expressions. Moreover, characteristic base‐rates and dangerousness affected the perceived likelihood of the profiling claim, such that increased base‐rates and perceived dangerousness resulted in an increased perception of the claim being likely. Perceived likelihoods also depended on the framing of characteristics as well as the framing of the claim itself. Finally, where claims involved presenting a characteristic qualified by a low probability these claims were interpreted as more likely than not to be present. These findings have practical implications for profilers and more general theoretical implications for the study of risk perception.

In Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23, 36-54