The impact of cognitive bias in skull sexing
The present research examined whether the innominate acted as contextual information which resulted in a skewed scoring of skull morphological sex traits and pairs overall (both innominate and skull). Survey participants first assessed the sex of an innominate, then assessed the sex of a skull, using methods standard in the field. The sex of ten skulls and associated innominates, which served as contextual elements to introduce bias, were assessed in two surveys by 22 participants total. Male and female innominates and skulls were mixed and matched to test bias, though it was implied to participants that the paired elements were from the same individual. No significant bias was seen on the level of the skull. However, significant shifts in scores were seen on the level of the overall pair in three out of the five studied, indicating that the sex of the innominate was privileged over that of the skull. This is considered standard procedure in the field as the innominate is more reliable for sex estimation; thus, the findings of the present study are inconsistent with cognitive bias. However, the present study raises questions about the utility of the skull in the estimation of sex in human skeletal remains. While the innominate may be more reliable in sex estimation when both elements are present, this may lead to inattention to valuable information presented by the skull in particular contexts such as commingled burials.