Chapter 1 – An Introduction to Forensic Psychology
What is Forensic Psychology?
A field of psychology that deals with all aspects of human behavior as it relates to the law or
The APA petitioned for the inclusion of forensic psychology as a specialization under a narrow
definition to include clinical but not research applications of psychology to the legal system.
Roles of a Forensic Psychologist
Clinical forensic psychologist
o Indulge in both research and practice.
o Primarily they are concerned with the assessment and treatment of mental illnesses
within the legal system.
o Typically requires a PhD (MA minimum in some provinces), and a practical component
that is supervised. This is then followed with an exam that includes an oral component.
o Areas of practice include:
Divorce and child custody mediation
Determining insanity and fitness to stand trial
Designing and conducting programs for offenders
Conducting critical incident stress debriefings with police officers
o Clinical forensic psychologists differ from forensic psychiatrists in that forensic
psychiatrists are medical doctors and can prescribe medicine.
The forensic psychologist as a researcher
o more concerned with:
examining the effectiveness of the risk-assessment strategies
determining what factors influence jury decision making
developing and testing better ways to conduct eyewitness lineups
evaluating offender and victim treatment programs
studying the impact of questioning style on eyewitness memory recall
Examining the effect of stress management interventions on police officers.
The forensic psychologist as a Legal scholar
o These are usually well rounded people who have degrees in other subject areas as well.
They deal primarily in analyses of “mental health law and psychologically oriented legal
movements, and apply their work to political analysis and legislative consultation”.
The relationship between psychology and law
o Psychology and the law
Where the two disciplines are separate but used together to examine
assumptions made by the legal system
o Psychology in the law This involves the use of psychological in the legal system. Basically meshing the
two subject areas together.
o Psychology of the law
Involves the use of psychology to understand the law itself.
The History of Forensic Psychology
Early research: Eyewitness testimony and suggestibility
o James McKeen Cattell conducted some of the first experiments in the field in North
America at Columbia University.
He was a student of Wilhelm Wundt.
His experiment developed into what is now known as the psychology of
He asked people to recall things they’d seen in their everyday lives, and
found the answers were often wrong.
o Alfred Binet
His studies in children found their testimony was highly susceptible to
suggestive questioning techniques. (if the question was structured a certain way
they could change the child’s response)
He showed a bunch of kids something and then asked then to write
down everything they remember about it (free recall), then he asked
direct (“how was the button attached to the board?”) and “guiding”
questions ranging from mildly suggestive (“Wasn’t the button attached
to the board with a string?”) to highly suggestive (“What color was the
string that attached the button to the board?”) and found that the free
recall provided the most accurate information.
o William Stern
the reality experiment – now commonly used by eyewitness researchers to
study recall and recognition.
He had students witness staged scenarios and recall them
Found that a person’s emotional arousal can impact the accuracy of their
Early court cases in Europe
o These are psychologists who called to testify at court cases.
o 1986, Albert Von Schrenck-Notzing
Case of series of 3 sexual murders
The first expert witness to provide testimony on pretrial publicity on memory
Pretrial publicity can cause retroactive memory falsification – where the witness
confuses actual memories with what is being said in the media.
o 1911, Jullian Varendonck
Case of a murdered young girl, Cecile Used research to prove the unreliability of children’s testimony, to
prevent an innocent man from going to jail because the children’s
answers changed via suggestive questioning.
Advocates of Forensic Psychology in North America
o Hugo Munsterberg
Published On the Witness Stand in 1908
Also a student of Wilhelm Wundt.
Considered to be the father of forensic psychology
His book was heavily critiqued by John Henry Wigmore, and it is believe that
Wigmore’s critiques further motivated psychologists to do more research and
get forensic psychology on the map.
Forensic Psychology in Other areas of the Criminal Justice System
o 1909 - forensic psychologists were instrumental in establishing the first clinic for juvenile
o 1917 – psychologists began using psychological testing for law enforcement selection
o 1919 – the first forensic assessment laboratory set up in a US police agency.
o 1921 – U.S. psychologists started testifying in court
Starting with State v. Driver
Landmark Court Cases in the United States
o State v. Driver (1921)
Attempted rape of a young girl
Psychologists testified in regards to juvenile delinquency
The court rejected the psychologists testimony of the girl being a “moron” and
said that there needed to more research to prove that there was a pl