Research ArticleSOCIAL SCIENCES

The limits of human predictions of recidivism

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Science Advances  14 Feb 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 7, eaaz0652
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaz0652

Abstract

Dressel and Farid recently found that laypeople were as accurate as statistical algorithms in predicting whether a defendant would reoffend, casting doubt on the value of risk assessment tools in the criminal justice system. We report the results of a replication and extension of Dressel and Farid’s experiment. Under conditions similar to the original study, we found nearly identical results, with humans and algorithms performing comparably. However, algorithms beat humans in the three other datasets we examined. The performance gap between humans and algorithms was particularly pronounced when, in a departure from the original study, participants were not provided with immediate feedback on the accuracy of their responses. Algorithms also outperformed humans when the information provided for predictions included an enriched (versus restricted) set of risk factors. These results suggest that algorithms can outperform human predictions of recidivism in ecologically valid settings.

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