C HAPTER 1:A N INTRODUCTION TO F ORENSIC P SYCHOLOGY
Forensic Psychology: a field of psychology that deals with all aspects of human behaviour as it
relates to the law or legal system.
W HAT IS FORENSIC P SYCHOLOGY ?
Two primary ways of defining forensic psychology:
o Narrow Definition
Focus on certain aspects of the field while ignoring other potentially important
Example: Focus on clinical aspects of the field while ignoring the
experimental research that many psychologists (who refer to themselves as
forensic psychologists) conduct.
“A field of psychology that includes “the primarily clinical aspects of forensic
assessment, treatment, and consultation””. (Otto and Heilbrun, 2002)
According to this definition, the only individuals who should call themselves
forensic psychologists are those individuals engaged in clinical practice (i.e.,
assessing, treating, or consulting) within the legal system.
Example: Psychologists who spend all their time conducing forensic-related
research – for example, studying the memory of eyewitnesses, examining
the decision-making processes of jurors, or evaluating the effectiveness of
offender treatment programs- would not technically be considered forensic
psychologists, according to this narrow definition of forensic psychology.
o Broad Definition
Less Restrictive than narrow definition
A research endeavor and/or a professional practice that examines human
behaviour in relation to the legal system… and (b) the professional practice of
psychology within, or in consultation with, a legal system that embraces both civil
and criminal law.” (Bartol &Bartol, 2006).
Unlike the narrow definition of forensic psychology, which focuses soely on the
application of psychology, the broad definition does not restrict forensic
psychology to applied issues.
It also focuses on the research that is required to inform applied practice in
the field of forensic psychology.
R OLES OF AFORENSIC P SYCHOLOGIST
What is consistent across the various definitions of forensic psychology that currently exist is that
individuals who call themselves forensic psychologists are always interested in issues that arise
at the intersection between psychology and the law.
o What typically differs across the definitions is the particular focus the forensic
Example: Forensic psychologists can take on the role of clinician or researcher.
Roles are not mutually exclusive, and one individual can take on more than
THE FORENSICPSYCHOLOGIST ASCLINICIAN
Clinical Forensic Psychologists: Psychologists who are broadly concerned with the assessment
and treatment of mental health issues as they pertain to the law or legal system.
Can include both research and practice in a wide variety of settings, such as schools, prisons, and
o Example: Clinical forensic psychologists are often concerned with the assessment and
treatment of persons with mental disorders within the context of the law On the research side: a frequent task might involve the validation of an assessment
tool that has been developed to predict the risk of an offender being violent
On the practical side: a frequent task might involve the assessment of an offender
to assist the parole board in making an accurate determination of whether that
offender is likely to pose a risk to the community if released.
Other issues that they are interested in may include, but are certainly not limited to, the
o Divorce and child custody mediation
o Determinations of criminal responsibility (insanity) and fitness to stand trial
o Providing expert testimony on questions of a psychological nature
o Personnel selection (e.g., for law enforcement agencies)
o Conducting critical incident stress debriefings with police officers
o Designing and conducting treatment programs for offenders
As in the United States, a clinical forensic psychologist in Canada must be a licensed clinical
psychologist who has specialized in the forensic area.
o Educational requirements to obtain a license vary across provinces and territories, but
some form of graduate-level training is always required.
In Alberta, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Prince
Edward Island, and New Brunswick, the requirement is master’s degree in
psychology (although New Brunswick will move to a Ph.D. degree standard in
In British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec, a Ph.D. degree in psychology is
o Forensic specialization typically takes the form of an intense period of supervised practice,
before and/or after the completion of the required degree, in an applied forensic setting
under the watchful eye of an experienced clinical supervisor.
o Last step of the licensing process is a comprehensive exam, which often involves an oral
What is the difference between forensic psychology and forensic psychiatry?
o Forensic Psychiatry: a field of medicine that deals with all aspects of human behaviour as
it relates to the law or legal system
o To some extent in Canada, clinical forensic psychology and forensic psychiatry are more
similar than they are different and, as a result, it is often difficult to separate them clearly.
Example: Both clinical forensic psychologists and forensic psychiatrists are trained
to assess and treat individuals experiencing mental health problems who come into
contact with the law, and you will see psychologists and psychiatrists involved in
nearly every component of the criminal justice system
Clinical forensic psychologists and forensic psychiatrists often engage in
some sorts of research (e.g., developing causal models of violent behaviour)
o Most obvious difference is that psychiatrists, including forensic psychiatrists, are medical
doctors who can prescribe medication
Therefore, forensic psychiatrists undergo training that is quite different from the
training clinical forensic psychologists receive, and this leads to several other
distinctions between the two fields
Example: In contrast to a psychiatrist’s general (but not sole) reliance on a
medical model of mental illness, psychologists tend to view mental illness
more as a product of an individual’s physiology, personality, and
THE F ORENSICP SYCHOLOGIST AS RESEARCHER The role of an experimenter or researcher does not necessarily have to be separate from clinical
role, but it often is.
Experimental Forensic Psychologists: Psychologists who are broadly concerned with the study
of human behaviour as it relates to the law or legal system.
o Researchers in the forensic area are usually concerned with much more than just mental
They can be interested in any research issue that relates to the law or legal system.
The list of research issues that are of interest to this type of forensic psychologist is far too long to
present here, but they include the following:
o Examining the effectiveness of risk-assessment strategies
o Determining what factors influence jury decision making
o Developing and testing better ways to conduct eyewitness lineups
o Evaluating offender and victim treatment programs
o Studying the impact of questioning style on eyewitness memory recall
o Examining the effect of stress management interventions on police officers
Forensic psychologist who is interested primarily in research will have undergone Ph.D. – level
graduate training in one of many different types of experimental graduate programs (and no
internship is typically required)
o Only some of these graduate programs will be devoted solely to the study of forensic
o Others will be programs in social, cognitive, personality, or developmental psychology,
although the program will have a faculty member associated with it who is conducting
research in a forensic area.
Regardless of the type of graduate program chosen, the individual’s graduate
research will be focused primarily on a topic related to forensic psychology (e.g.,
the malleability of child eyewitness memory)
Research in forensic psychology is eclectic and requires expertise in areas such as memory
processing, decision-making, and organizational issues.
THE FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGIST ASL EGALSCHOLAR
Role is far less common but no less important
Two initiatives at Simon Fraser University (SFU) in Burnaby, B.C.:
o The first of these initiatives was SFU’s Psychology and Law Program, originally established
More recently, this program partnered with University of British Columbia to allow
students to obtain both their Ph.D. in psychology as well as their L.L.B. in law.
Program produces forensic psychologists who are much more informed about the
legal process and the legal system than was the case previously
o The second initiative was the formation, also in 1991, of the Mental Health, Law, and
Policy Institute (MHLPI) at SFU.
Purpose of the MHLPI is to “promote interdisciplinary collaboration in research
and training in areas related to mental health law and policy”
According to Brigham (1999), forensic psychologists in their role as legal scholars “would most
likely engage in scholarly analyses of mental health law and psychologically oriented legal
movements,” whereas their applied work “would most likely center around policy analysis and
T HE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PSYCHOLOGY AND LAW Craig Haney (1980), a professor of psychology at the University of California, suggests that there
are three primary ways in which psychology and the law can relate to each other. He calls these
o Psychology and the law: the use of psychology to examine the operation of the legal
o Psychology in the law: the use of psychology in the legal system as that system operates
o Psychology of the law: the use of psychology to examine the law itself.
Clinical and experimental forensic psychologists are typically involved in psychology and the law
& psychology in the law much more often
Psychology of the law is largely the domain of the legal scholar role.
PSYCHOLOGY AND THE LAW
“Psychology is viewed as a separate discipline [to the law], examining and analyzing various
components of the law [and the legal system] from a psychological perspective” (Bartol & Bartol,
Research that falls under the category of psychology and the law examines assumptions made by
the law or our legal system, asking questions such as:
o “Are eyewitnesses accurate?”
o “Do certain interrogation techniques cause people to falsely confess?”
o “Are judges fair in the way they hand down sentences?”
o “Is it possible to accurately predict whether an offender will be violent when released
Forensic psychologist attempt to answer these sorts of questions so that the answers can be
communicated to the legal community.
PSYCHOLOGY IN THELAW
Involves the use of psychological knowledge in the legal system.
Can take many different forms:
o Might consist of a psychologist in court providing expert testimony concerning some
issues of relevance to a particular case
Example: The psychologist might testify that, based on his or her understanding of
the psychological research, the eyewitness on the stand may have incorrectly
identified the defendant from a police lineup.
o Might consist of a police officer using his or her knowledge of psychology in an
Example: the officer may base his questioning strategy during an interrogation on
his knowledge of various psychological principles that are known to be useful for
PSYCHOLOGY OF THE LAW
Involves the use of psychology to study the law itself.
Addresses questions such as:
o “What role should the police play in domestic disputes?”
o “Does the law reduce the amount of crime in our society?”
o “Why is it important to allow for discretionary decision making in the Canadian criminal
Often not considered a core topic in forensic psychology but appears to be a growing interest in
the area of psychology of the law.
Challenge in this case is to address the sorts of questions posted above; a set of skills from
multiple disciplines (e.g., criminology, sociology, law) is often important and sometimes crucial.
T HE HISTORY OF FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGY Compared with other areas of psychology, forensic psychology, when it is broadly defined, has a
relatively short history, dating back roughly to the late nineteenth century.
In the early days, this type of psychology was actually not referred to, as forensic psychology and
most of the psychologists conducting research in the area did not formally identify themselves as
o Their research formed the building blocks of an emerging field of psychology that
continues to be strong today
EARLY R ESEARCH:E YEWITNESS T ESTIMONY AND SUGGESTIBILITY
In the late 19 century, research in the area of forensic psychology was taking place in both
North America and Europe.
Experiment by James McKeen Cattell (who is perhaps better known for his research in the area of
intelligence testing) at Columbia University in New York
o After developing an expertise in the study of human cognitive processes while in Leipzig,
Cattell conducted some of the first North American experiments looking at what would
later be called the psychology of eyewitness testimony (e.g., Cattell, 1895).
Cattell would ask people to recall things they had witnessed in their everyday lives
(e.g., “In which direction do apple seeds point?”), and he found that their answers
were often inaccurate.
Famous French psychologist, Alfred Binet, conducted studies in which he showed that the
testimony provided by children was highly susceptible to suggestive questioning techniques.
o Binet (1900) presented children with a series of objects for a short period of time (e.g., a
button glued to poster board).
After viewing an object, some of the children were told to write down everything
that they saw while others were asked questions
Some of those questions were direct (e.g., “How was the button attached to
the board?”), others were mildly leading (e.g., “Wasn’t the button attached
by a thread?”) and still others were highly misleading (e.g., “What was the
colour of the threat that attached the button to the board?”)
o Binet demonstrated that asking children to report everything they saw (i.e., free recall)
resulted in the most accurate answers and that highly misleading questions resulted in the
least accurate answers.
German psychologist, William Stern, conducted studies examining the suggestibility of witnesses
o “Reality Experiment” now commonly used by eyewitness researchers to study
eyewitness recall and recognition can in fact be attributed to Stern
o Participants are exposed to staged events and are then asked to recall information about
In one of Stern’s experiments, participants were exposed to a scenarior that
involved two students arguing in a classroom setting until one of the students drew
a revolver (Stern 1910)