“Why do you insist on spending so much time at the crime scene?” asked Watson.

“Where do you think it more likely I will get the information and ideas to solve the case?” asked Holmes. “At the Pub at Piccadilly or at the crime scene?”

“I’m not sure what you mean,” said Watson.

“Don’t you think that the environment influences your thoughts and feelings?
I’m an image

It’s possible that I might get clues and information about the crime while at the pub, but much more likely at the crime scene,” said Holmes

“Are you talking about feelings or ideas?” asked Watson.

“What’s the difference? They are all data points that shape the thought process,” said Holmes.

The environment, both internal and external, can shape the thought process and can present data that will influence decision-making. There’s the famous study in which judges were shown to give harsher sentences the hungrier they were. The external environment, especially the social environment, influences how “data” is interpreted. There’s the well-known Solomon Asch experiment in which participants chose an obviously wrong answer about the length of lines in a drawing, when they saw other participants chose the ‘obviously’ wrong answer. It’s unclear how many of the people in the study knew they were giving the wrong answer, or thought they had misunderstood the task, or seriously believed that they were correct.

The environment, however, doesn’t just offer clues that can divert the thought process, it can provide critical information. For example, Sherlock might be lingering at the crime scene for hours and realize that as time wore on the environment got more humid and he started to sweat. This realization could lead to a re-evaluation of the evidence and the timing of events depending on moisture content of the “clues”, or even the role of increased humidity on the mindset of the perpetrator and victim.

The environment, therefore, influences our awareness and use of data that might be relevant for solving the crime.

by Howard Rankin PhD, psychology and cognitive neuroscience