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University of Waterloo Dangerous Minds & Exploring Reliability and Validity Essay

This discussion assignment is designed to provide an opportunity for you to

  • explore how the concepts of reliability and validity are not only relevant to evaluating the quality of psychological measures in research but are also relevant to evaluating psychological measures as they are applied in practical contexts.

In this discussion assignment you will read the article “Dangerous Minds: Criminal Profiling Made Easy” by Malcolm Gladwell and published in 2007 in The New Yorker magazine. Gladwell’s article discusses the work of John Douglas to develop an influential approach to criminal profiling when he was involved in setting up the FBI’s behavioural science unit. Douglas and his colleagues developed their profiling system after conducting interviews with serial killers and other individuals who were convicted of serious crimes. Douglas’ approach to criminal profiling has been widely used by law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and around the world and his work has even become known in the popular culture. Douglas was actually the inspiration for the character of Jack Crawford the FBI’s behavioural science director in the books and movies “The Red Dragon” and “The Silence of the Lambs.” Also, the many, many TV programs that center on criminal profiling are strongly influenced by Douglas’ approach.

Gladwell’s article provides a critique of both the reliability and the validity of Douglas’ approach to identifying the psychological characteristics of criminals by examining details of their crimes. As you read this article pay close attention to how the problems that Gladwell discusses relate to some of the concepts of reliability and validity assessment that we have covered in this module.

Dangerous Minds: Criminal profiling made easy

After you read the article reflect on the information within it that related to the reliability and validity of this approach to measuring criminal psychology. After you reflect on this article post to the discussion any thoughts that you had about how Gladwell’s critiques of this system of criminal profiling raises concerns about the reliability and validity of this approach.

Here are some sample questions that you might consider to guide your reflections:

  • What evidence did Gladwell review that called into question the internal consistency of the distinction between organized and disorganized serial killers?
    • How was the internal consistency of this distinction assessed?
    • In what ways was the internal consistency of the distinction shown to be weak?
    • What are the implications of the low internal consistency of this distinction?
    • Why do you think this distinction has been so influential despite this weak reliability?
  • Gladwell suggests that the influence of Douglas’ approach to criminal profiling is largely due to the fact that his diagnoses appear on the surface to be insightful and accurate. How does this relate to the concept of face validity that was reviewed in this module?
    • How does Gladwell’s critique of Douglas’ criminal profiling show the fallibility of using face validity to assess the validity of a psychological measure?
    • Gladwell refers to the Barnum Effect which we discussed in an earlier module. Why does the Barnum Effect contribute to the fallibility of using face validity to assess a measure’s validity?
    • What other examples does Gladwell suggest make Douglas’ diagnoses of patterns of criminal psychology appear to be accurate and convincing?
    • Since face validity seems to be such a problematic method for assessing the validity of Douglas’ approach to criminal profiling what would be more justifiable and rigorous methods of assessing the validity of this criminal profiling system? What evidence in Gladwell’s article might lead one to be skeptical about whether Douglas’ criminal profiling system would pass these more rigorous types of validity tests?


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