Track The Attacker

This article originally appeared in The Observer magazine/Guardian Online

How good are you at understanding the psychology of criminal behaviour? The map below shows a number of violent attacks for which the police believe that the same person is responsible (indicated by black dots).Where do you think the attacker lives? The answer is shown at the bottom of the page.


Did you get it right? 

YES, call me “Cracker”! You have an intuitive understanding of the criminal mind, and have somehow internalised what forensic psychologists call the golden rule of offender behaviour: that most are impulsive, and don’t travel far to commit their crimes. So – as you know intuitively – the trick is just to place your X as close as possible to as many dots as possible.

NO, he got away! Don’t worry if you got it wrong; most people do, as the “golden rule” isn’t as obvious as it seems given the benefit of hindsight. The good news is that, after being told about this rule, would-be sleuths upped their accuracy to a level equivalent to the sophisticated software used by many police forces.

Snook, B., Taylor, P. J., & Bennell, C. (2004). Geographic profiling: The fast, frugal, and accurate way. Applied Cognitive Psychology18(1), 105-121.


Answer: The attacker probably lives in the Stoke Newington area.

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