Rebecca Wheeler is a PhD student at Goldsmiths, University of London. Her research looks at improving memory recall in cognitive interviews.
Rebecca and colleagues at Goldsmiths Forensic Psychology Unit (FPU) held a public engagement event with a difference…
The death of Jane Doe: A Goldsmiths murder investigation
On 29 January 2016 a young woman named Jane Doe was found dead in Deptford Town Hall Chambers at Goldsmiths, University of London. While friends left touching tributes outside the room in which Jane’s body was discovered by security guard John Locke, a team of trainee investigators settled in for an evening of sleuthing. The recruits received briefings by former police detectives, viewed CCTV footage, examined the crime scene, and had the chance to grill forensic experts and Persons of Interest in their search for clues. Thankfully justice was done, and the guilty party brought to rights. Rest in Peace, Jane.
While there wasn’t actually a murder last week at Goldsmiths, the investigation did take place. I’m part of the FPU which hosted ‘The Death of Jane Doe: The psychology of a murder investigation’ as a public engagement event to raise awareness of the role of psychological research in police practice. Throughout the evening the audience took part in mini experiments, designed to complement existing FPU studies.
These tasks allowed us to present ‘live data’ on the decision-making processes of the guests, and in particular, how they changed their views on the guilty party as the evening progressed. The FPU team also each presented a series of five minute ‘elevator-style’ pitches on our current research.
- why eyewitness memory is poor
- perceptions of mentally disordered suspects
- memory for information not consciously encoded, making the most of your memory
- and high-stakes deception detection.
After being awarded a public engagement grant from the Goldsmiths Outreach Team, we began the Herculean task of actually organising the event. We had invaluable support from the Goldsmiths Acting and Filmmaking Society, and we could not have done it without them. For the event to be a success the audience had to buy in to the roles we were playing entirely, and we had to carefully strike the balance between science and performance. I’m pleased to say that our feedback suggests we accomplished this, with many guests complimenting our ‘crime scene’, the cast of characters presented to them, and the insights into our work with investigators.
The current research culture focuses strongly on impact. Although measuring impact was only formally introduced in the last REF, the term has increasingly become part of the social scientist’s vocabulary, and a key part of achieving impact is to engage with the public. The difficulty at present is that now more than ever, it is difficult to know who your audience is, and what it is that they want from researchers. Some want the hard science (as shown through the increased interest in open access publishing and accessible writing), others want to be drawn in, and shown the relevance of the research we conduct to their own lives. In line with these changes, the demand for events has moved beyond simply academic talks, with research institutions increasingly hosting entertainment-based evenings (eg the Science Museum Lates series). We shouldn’t underestimate the role that our counterparts in the Arts can play here in helping us to satisfy the demand of different audiences in social science.
Despite the challenges, I know this won’t be our last foray into more traditionally Arts-based territory, and we’d encourage other social scientists to do the same. Through exploring more creative means of public engagement we can bring our findings to a wider audience than we thought possible, foster more Arts-Science collaborations, and have a lot of fun in doing so!
For more on the event and the work of the Goldsmiths Forensic Psychology Unit please see the Goldsmiths FPU Twitter page, search the hashtag #FPUevents, or visit our website. More FPU events are coming soon, with details available via Twitter and the FPU website. Early booking is advised!