An instinct for detection: psychological perspectives on CCTV surveillance

Kenneth C. Scott-Brown, Patrick D. J. Cronin

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The aim of this article is to inform and stimulate a proactive, multidisciplinary approach to research and development in surveillance-based detective work. In this article we review some of the key psychological issues and phenomena that practitioners should be aware of. We look at how human performance can be explained with reference to our biological and evolutionary legacy. We show how critical viewing conditions can be in determining whether observers detect or overlook criminal activity in video material. We examine situations where performance can be surprisingly poor, and cover situations where, even once confronted with evidence of these detection deficits, observers still underestimate their susceptibility to them. Finally we explain why the emergence of these relatively recent research themes presents an opportunity for police and law enforcement agencies to set a new, multidisciplinary research agenda focused on relevant and pressing issues of national and international importance.
Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Police Journal
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2007


  • Change blindness
  • Inattentional blindness
  • Multi-disciplinary
  • Surveillance
  • CCTV
  • Terrorism
  • Evolution
  • Police
  • Misdirection


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