The Criminal Mind


Another of the keynote speakers at the XLRI conference was Dr S. L. Vaya.  Dr Vaya works at the Directorate of Forensic Sciences (DFS – though I’m not sure if they have a permanent sale).  At DFS they use biometric measurement on suspects in criminal investigations to try and demonstrate whether or not these suspects have been involved in the crime of which they have been accused.  Clearly issues of guilt and innocence are, in stark contrast to making advertisers better able to sell brands, fairly essential issues for a civilised society to get right.  The standard of proof is also, of course, far higher when you’re interested in whether or not someone was involved in the Ahmedabad bombings (a case DFS had inputs into) than it is when you’re simply interested in whether an ad is making a general population feel warm and fuzzy in all the right places.  They’re not convicting people on this basis alone, but they’re using it as a part of the investigation in the same way that polygraph tests have been used for years.

There are ethical considerations here – there’s a long standing legal truth that people should not be required to reveal their own guilt (if they are guilty, it should be up to us to prove it so).  Given that you can’t control your brain activity you could easily implicate yourself without realising you had done so.  For this reason, there are pretty stringent controls on when and how these techniques are to be used in a criminal investigation.

  1. There must be a High Court order in place to allow it.
  2. The suspect must give their express, informed consent.
  3. Results will not be seen as conclusive in themselves, but can be used as supporting evidence for a case.
  4. It must not be used against the suspect.

This last point Dr Vaya mentioned and didn’t elaborate on and I forgot to ask her to clarify it when we were speaking later in the evening.  As it stands it doesn’t make much sense to me as if, even as secondary evidence, it is being used as part of the case against the suspect I can’t understand exactly how any test could qualify under point 4.  Perhaps someone in the know will read this and clarify – but anyway, the point that this is being used in a considered and sensible way is hopefully made.

So how does it work?  Basically a series of questions are designed and posed to the suspect whilst they are wired up to a full EEG headset.  Dr Vaya mentioned that the design of the questionnaire is absolutely crucial in the process if you are to get meaningful results, which sounds pretty familiar.  The questions are about the details of the case.  The nature of the brain response to these questions informs us about both the knowledge of the events asked about but also, crucially, about the intent of the person if they were involved.  By way of an example Dr Vaya showed us the brainwave response for a suspect (later convicted) in an investigation and one of the investigating officers.  The investigating office knew the details of the of the case very well, but his (or her, Dr Vaya didn’t specify, but let’s be honest, almost certainly his) response was distinctly different, even to the untrained eye, to that of our later-proven-to-be-guilty suspect.

I have a B in A-Level law, so I’m sure you’ll agree I’m something of an authority in this area.  Many of the world’s legal systems have two elements to crimes – actus reus (did the perp actually do it) and mens rea (did the scoundrel do it on purpose).  The latter is generally much harder to prove than the former.  A glimpse inside the criminal mind can help with that.

The same is true with brands – people’s behaviours are fairly easy to observe.  Finding out why people are behaving the way they do is much more difficult.

2 thoughts on “The Criminal Mind”

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