A Study Of Psychology

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Psychology and Forensic Psychology

Psychology is the study of human behavior and minds, focusing on all elements of unconscious and conscious experience, including what is thought. It is both a social science and an academic subject that seeks to understand communities and individuals by investigating unique examples and creating general principles. In legal practice, forensic psychology is one of the sub-branches of psychology that interacts with the law. It is the meeting point of the legal and psychological systems. Forensic psychology is a broad field of specialization in which psychologists can operate in a variety of contexts such as courts, police departments' juvenile dental clinics, and prisons. While undertaking their duties, the forensic psychiatrist creates treatment program for convicts, counsel the law enforcement officers and their spouses, assess whether an imprisoned person is ready for conditional release.

Early Studies on Forensic Psychology

James McKeen Cattell was the first person to conduct studies on forensic science at Columbia University in the year 1893, and he was exploring the psychology of testimony. While carrying out his informal study, he involved 56 college students whom he asked some questions. Some of his questions included, does oak trees or chestnut lose their leaves much earlier in autumn? He asked them to state what the eater was in the past week (Engstrom, 2009). Lastly, he asked them to rate their level of confidence in answering the questions. In his findings, a level of trust was not equal to the degree of correctness. Some students were insecure even though their answers were correct wheel others were also confident even through their answers were wrong. The level accuracy in the questions asked was kind of interesting whereby the students gave a broad range of answers that were true although they were distributed through the whole month, not just the past week. This study by Cattell brought about a magnanimous interest among psychologists in studying the psychology of testimony. Joseph Jastrow was the first psychologist to replicated Cattell’s study at the University of Wisconsin and found similar answers.

Psychological Studies on Eyewitness Testimony

According to Carracedo, (2013), in 1901, William Stern a phycologist from Germany oversaw an interesting experiment where he incorporated criminologists and further showed the degree of inaccuracy in the accounts given by eyewitnesses in some cases. In his study, Stern staged an argument in a law class which saw one of the students drawing a revolver and the professor came in to stop the fight among the students. After the incident, students were asked to give ab account of what has transpired through written and oral reports. The findings of the study showed that made about four to twelve errors in their narration. Again it was observed that the errors were even higher with and escalated tension. Hence the study concluded that emotions played a primary role in the diminished accuracy of recall. Stem became interested in the psychology of testimony carrying our numerous studies; he even set up a journal exploring the subject which was called “contributions to the psychology of testimony.” From his many studies, Stern came up with some conclusions including the use of intriguing questions compromises the accuracy of the report of an eyewitness. Secondly, he pointed out that there are differences and in the accounts of a child and adult witness with the events taking place between the first occurrence to the time of giving a testimony affecting memory significantly.

Role of Psychologists in Courts

Psychologists had begun testifying in courts of law and expert witness as a result of forensic psychology. Albert von Schrenck-Notzing was the first psychologist to provide expert witness in a case involving a man who was accused of killing three women. The case received much attention from the media. According to the expert witness, the prep trial coverage of the case by the press clouded the memories of witnesses who were not able to differentiate the media accounts and their original accounts. Using psychological research, Albert was able to substantiate his opinion.

The Father of Applied Psychology and Eyewitness Testimony

Hugo Munsterberg who is often referred to as the father of plied Psychology in the year 1906 was asked by an attorney in Germany to review the trail records and investigation of his client. The client had recanted his earlier confession of murder. Munsterberg had a firm conviction that the man was probably innocent and mentally disabled hence skeptical about the manner in which the confession was obtained. Unfortunately, his request to review the case was not approved by the presiding judge who even got furious accusing Munsterberg o meddling with the court process. Unfortunately, the man was sentenced to death and hanged a few days later. Following the incidence, Munsterberg was prompted publish as on the witness stand 1908. In his publication, he emphasized that psychology was critical in a courtroom, he also pointed out that eyewitness testimony was not always reliable and that suggestive questioning can create false memories hence leading to injustice to either the suspect or the victim of the offense under investigation.

Development of Criminal Profiling

In 1922 one of Munsterberg’s students Williamson Marston was appointed as the first legal psychology professor in an American university. Marston is widely remembered for his discovery where he linked lying and blood pressure which further led to the development of a polygraph test to ascertain the truth in the accounts given by suspects. In 1923, with other psychologist consultants, he provided and expert testimony in a court of law (Carracedo, 2013). During the same period, Lewis Terman, introduced the use of forensic psychology in the screen the police officers for their personality profiles and mental health status before they could be allowed to work. The use of forensic psychology was since mental health is one of the key factors that will determine the process of investigation and collection of evidence to be used against suspects in a court of law. Marston carried out many studies in the jury system, and the accuracy of testimony give which were later used in the expansion of forensic psychology in the later years.

Revitalization of Forensic Psychology

Forensic psychology stagnated for a long time during the Second World War, however in the 1940s and the 1950s, the field was revitalized with many psychologists using the forensic psychology to testify in courts regularly as experts in a wide range of psychological topics. Various psychologists testified in court during the case of brown v. board of education in the year 1954, and the tribunal’s decision on the case was primarily influenced by the psychologist’s arguments.

Historical Development of Criminal Profiling

According to Bartol & Bartol, (2006),psychological profiles are aimed at providing the investigative agencies with the vital information of the type of the individual that s involved I a perfect crime. It is an in-depth analysis of the behavioral characteristics and personalities of a person concerning the crimes that they committed. To understand the psychological profile of the offenders, the criminal psychologists study the crime scene. A through an investigation of the crime scene also provides a lot of information on the type of the offender and some of the psychological aspects of the criminal. Secondly, the psychologist has to study the personality traits of the person involved in the crime and lastly to determine the kind of a person that is likely to carry out the crime. Adequate information on the type of the person that is likely to have committed the crime will be essential for the investigative agencies in the bid to identify the criminals. It is believed that most of the criminals with unique r similar personality traits, tend to behave in a similar manner hence making it easy to have a description of the perpetrator. At the same time, Engstrom, (2009) asserts that the behavior of an individual is as result of various factors that include psychological and social.

Early Case Studies on Criminal Profiling

The first use of psychological profile was against Adolf Hitler which was done by Dr. Langer. Dr. Lancer was a renowned psychiatrist who was put into the task by the office of strategic service to give a detailed profile of Adolf Hitler. In his assignment, he collected all the available information about little over some time. Through the information that he got, he was able to give a psychodynamic personality profile of Hitler focusing n various decisions that he was likely to make in different situations. Dr. Lancer's profile was found to be accurate greatly, in fact in his profile he included the possibility of Adolf’s suicide which he committed at the end of the World War II when allies took Berlin.

After the Second World War, the following documentation of criminal profiling was done in the year 1957 in the bid to identify the mad bomber who had detonated over 30 bombs within 15 years. The New York police department asked Brussels a psychiatrist to profile the serial bomber who was so elusive to the law enforcement officers. Following a keen study of the crime scenes, and the types of letters that the bomber wrote to the newspapers, Brussels was able to profile the bomber. In his report to the police department, he asked them to look for a man who is middle-aged, stout man; Roman Catholic lives with a sister or brother. He even identified the type of clothing that he was likely to be wearing which were a buttoned double-breasted suit. Using the information the New York police department was able to track down the attacker, surprisingly, before he left his apartment, he put on the clothes that Brussels had identified. All the information or criminal profile determined by Brussels was in line with the bombers except for he did not live with a brother or a sister but two maiden sisters. In his explanation on how he could profile criminals, Brussels explained that he first examines a persona and then make some predictions on how he or she would behave in different situations. Meaning that he had to reverse the process by trying to describe an individual being on the evidence left behind following an offense.

Later in the year 1964. Brussel worked with the Boston police department in profiling the Boston Strangler, Albert DeSalvo. In another significant incident, during the period 1976 to 1977, the son of some was a menace in New York City where he killed many young couples who were sitting in their cars in various places within the city (Ideas, Czerederecka, Jaskiewicz-Obydzińska, & Wójcikiewicz, 2009). Some forensic experts were asked to conduct a criminal profiling of the perpetrator, and Dr.Murray Myron was one of them. Marion carried the psycholinguistic analysis using the many notes the perpetrator sent to newspapers. When the Son of Sam was apprehended Myron’s profile was closely similar to the actual profile of the perpetrator.

Development of FBI's Criminal Profiling Unit

Following the many cases of mass and serial homicides in the United States during the 1960s, the federal bureau of investigation officially inaugurated the criminal profiling unit in its behavioral sciences unit. The decision to come up with a criminal profiling unit by the FBI was informed by the increasing number of serials murder crimes that were experienced in the United States that needed speed investigations (Holobinko, 2012). The investigative agency through that it could be much easier if the law enforcement officers had the information how o profile the criminals hence decreasing the time taken in apprehending the criminals. Hence the official acquired better skills on inquiry with minimal errors reducing the list of suspects to be investigated for the crime. Also to the previous profiling, there were embarrassing failures in the investigation which was a result of poor characterization of the suspects. The most known errors as that of the Boston Strangler where some psychiatrists concluded that the criminals were a group of two homosexuals who despised their parents. The conclusions were a far cry when compared to the actual person involved in the crime DeSalvo.

Applications of Criminal Profiling

Even though criminal profiling I used in many cases that include hostage-taking situations, organized crime investigations, I most commonly uses in investigating sexually motivated crimes, arson, and serial homicides. In fact, the criminal profiling in most cases is applicable where the perpetrator shows signs of psychopathology like bizarre behavior, brutal torture or evisceration. In most cases, the skills for criminal profiling are used by law enforcement agents who are investigating a serial killer. Despite the fact that the number of serial homicides reports per single time is very minimal, their existence disrupts the normal functioning of the people in the affected community (Saks & Koehler, 2005). Individuals in the area live with fear inhibition ad intimidation which is torturous on its way. With the help of criminal filing, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of serial killers apprehend in the United States unlike the past in the 19th century and early 20th century when the field was not available in aiding with the investigations.

Empirical Data and Advancements in Profiling

Following an extended period of often misguided theory-driven practice, empirical data on the following offenses was collected to show unusual behavioral patterns that may be critical in improving the profiling practices. For instance, information was collected on 159 cases of serial murders worldwide from the year 1795 to 1988 which gave a revelation on the most common method used by the perpetrators. In the study, 55 percent of the deaths were carried out by mutilation, suffocation and strangulation were the second most commonly used method with 33 percent of the cases while bludgeoning was the least used of the three broad methods at 25 percent (Trestrail III, 2007). In general, from the study, the serial killers usually use their hands to kills unlike the use of guns. Therefore it gives an insight on some of the behavioral characteristics of the individual who could use different methods to commit the homicides.

FBI's Approach to Criminal Profiling

The FBI homicide unit has taken the initiative of advancing the criminal profiling in investigations. From its inception in 1970, the FBI investigators have accrued out a number studies on the crime scenes and also interviewed the offenders with the principal aim of developing offender topologies to further advance the knowledge in the field. To enhance the exploration of the field investigators follows an objectives routine while carrying out their investigations. That includes the data assimilation phase, crime classification and profile generation stages. While assimilating the data is collected from various sources that may include photographs of the scene, autopsy reports and police reports and verbal reports of the victims more so the rape cases.

After all the information is collected has been analyzed, and the crime classified, then the investigators tend to construct the characteristic of the offence itself linking the savior of the victim and the sequence of offending. The resolution of the two aspects is vital in developing the final description of the perpetrators by pointing out the physical and demographic characteristics, personality dynamics and behavioral habits in the last stage of profile generation phase. The last profile obtained can give information on the type of vehicle the criminal might be driving, family history and personal, psychopathology legal and educational history-social habits and interests.

Other Applications of Forensic Psychology

Forensic psychology has become a diverse field of study being offered by various institutions. Apart from criminal profiling, the forensic psychologist has a much of role to play in the justice department. For instance, they help judge preceding a case over children custody I making the decision on who should have the custody of the child. Also, the psychologist has been used by the justice department to determine whether an individual is fit mentally to attend a trail. In some cases, some offenders commit crimes without their will. More so the mentally ill patients, involved in murder cases carry the activity while they are not sane. Thus it will be only unfair for them to be handled like the other ordinary people before a judge. In some cases.

Forensic psychologists can be used to determine where a person involved in an accident sustained any neurological or psychological damage through interviewing. Some forensic psychologist is involved with counseling of the council g the inmates and probationers (Margot, 2011). At the same time, he or she can provide their counseling services to victims of crime and their family members as they prepare to testify. The advice is essential in helping the affected people cope with emotional distress which might distort the accuracy of their accounts. At the same time with adequate counseling, the concerned people are likely to return to normalcy quickly. Various institutions of higher learning have introduced forensic phycology as part of the undergraduate courses hence further enhancing the field academically. Currently one can study forensic psychology right from undergraduate to doctor of philosophy levels.

The Development of Forensic Psychology

Concisely forensic psychology in has undergone tremendous development over time. Its roots back to the 19th century and has grown over time. It is a unique and fascinating field of study whose exploration has been faced with numerous challenges. To begin with, the accuracy in criminal profiling as not arrived at with ease. A few people managed to come up with accurate profiling while some failed which at the end of the day affected the process of investigation. For instance, the Boston Strangler is the most documented incidence where the psychiatrists mandated to conduct the criminal profiling came up with contrary characteristics of the perpetrator which affected the investigations a great deal. Nevertheless, the impacts of success by Brussel acted as a motivator for further exploration of the field. The entry of FBI into the field has even made the advancement much easier and increased the knowledge base of the field. Besides, it has led to ensuring the forensic psychology plays a significant role in courts hence making justice department provide justice to the victims of various sexually motivated offenses and serial murders.


Bartol, C. R., & Bartol, A. M. (2006). History of forensic psychology. The Handbook of Forensic Psychology, 3–27.

Carracedo, A. (2013). Encyclopedia of Forensic Sciences. Encyclopedia of Forensic Sciences. http://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-382165-2.00037-4

Engstrom, E. J. (2009). History of forensic psychiatry. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 22(6), 576–81. http://doi.org/10.1097/YCO.0b013e3283317ccb

Holobinko, A. (2012). Forensic human identification in the United States and Canada: A review of the law, admissible techniques, and the legal implications of their application in forensic cases. Forensic Science International, 222(1-3). http://doi.org/10.1016/j.forsciint.2012.06.001

Ideas, N., Czerederecka, A., Jaskiewicz-Obydziñska, T., & Wójcikiewicz, J. (2009). Forensic Psychology and Law. Psy2.Ucsd.Edu. Retrieved from http://psy2.ucsd.edu/~vjkpublications/pdf/2000 Krakow DNA Evidence.pdf

Margot, P. (2011). Forensic science on trial - What is the law of the land? Australian Journal of Forensic Sciences, 43(2-3), 89–103. http://doi.org/10.1080/00450618.2011.555418

Saks, M. J., & Koehler, J. J. (2005). The coming paradigm shift in forensic identification science. Science (New York, N.Y.), 309(5736), 892–5. http://doi.org/10.1126/science.1111565

Trestrail III, J. H. (2007). CRIMINAL POISONING INVESTIGATIONAL GUIDE FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT, TOXICOLOGISTS, FORENSIC SCIENTISTS, AND ATTORNEYS Second Edition PREFACE. Criminal Poisoning: Investigational Guide for Law Enforcement, Toxicologists, Forensic Scientists, and Attorneys, Second Edition.

April 19, 2023

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