Forensic Psychology Psychology involves the scientific study of mental functions and behaviors of the human body. It can be looked as being broken down into two categories, basic psychology and applied psychology. Basic psychology is the use of theories and fundamentals to explain how attitudes, personalities, values, and behaviors are related while applied psychology is the use of these psychological principles and theories to overcome problems in real life situations.
Some of the basic psychology studies include abnormal, cognitive, developmental, and social psychology. Applied psychology applies these studies in things like clinical, forensic, health, and educational psychology. I chose to explore the study of an applied type of psych, forensic psychology. Forensic psychology is the application of the science and profession of psychology to questions issues relating to law and the legal system. The word ‘forensic’ comes from the Latin word ‘forensis,’ meaning ‘of the forum,’ where the law courts of ancient Rome were held.
Not only does forensic psychology require understanding of the different psychological studies but also an understanding of the law and how it works. Looking at legal issues from a psychological standpoint combines psychology and the law. This form of psychology is used frequently in the legal system. Legal systems make use of forensic psychologists and their practice in evaluations of the mental status of defendants before, during and after trial proceedings.
Most may think forensic psychology is only used in criminal matters but forensic psychologist may also assist in a wide variety of civil matters. Civil matters can include lawsuits or insurance claims where emotional affliction is a part of the claim. Determination of competency of an aged or ill person to make decisions, or whether a death was an accident or a “disguised suicide” in an insurance claim case are both examples of how forensic psychology can help aid certain legal cases.
The idea of forensic psychology first came about in the late 1800’s. But it wasn’t until the 1900’s when a German psychologist by the name of Hugo Munsterberg claimed that psychology should be applied to the law. Even though this is a couple hundred years from today, it wasn’t until 2001 that the American Psychological Association recognized forensic psychology as a specialization under the study of psychology. In 1906, a defense attorney asked Hugo to review his convicted client’s investigation and trial records.
This promoted his 1908 book “On the Witness Stand”. It detailed how psychological factors can influence the outcome of a trial. In the book, he discussed problems with eyewitness testimony, false confessions, and interrogations. Munsterberg points out that for various reasons why eye witness testimony is essentially unreliable, he describes how eye witness testimony is naturally susceptible to what he calls “illusions” where a subjects perceptions could be affected causing an inaccurate testimony.
In the portion of the book that he calls “The Detection of Crime”, he discusses the many factors that can influence testimonies, gain confessions, and force confessions from those who are innocent. He explains some of the ways that police have of making suspects confess to crimes that they had not committed, some of these including making their life as uncomfortable as possible while in holding to be able to break down their energy, and “worst of all giving brutal shocks given with fiendish cruelty to the terrified imagination of the suspect. Later, in 1917 one of Munsterberg’s students, William Marston, discovered that systolic blood pressure and lying were directly correlated. This discovery helped lead the creation of the modern polygraph detector Forensic psychology was largely stagnant until the 1940s and 1950s, when psychologists began regularly testifying in courts as experts on a range of psychological topics. They became able to conduct evaluations to help the court with mental statuses, the sanity of defendants, and legal competence. One of the first uses of forensic psychology in the court was in the landmark case Brown v.
Board of Education (1954) that ended legal segregation in public schools. Psychologists showed that segregation had a negative effect on the self-esteem of young children and the court believed this was a persuasive argument. This proved that psychologists were an extremely useful form of testimony for both the plaintiffs and defendants. Another example of the importance of forensic psychologists came around in 1962 when psychologists serving as mental illness professionals were strongly supported by the court in the case Jenkins v. United States.
Here the court ruled in support to psychologists being used as expert witnesses when mental illnesses are concerned. Following this example many other courts, both federal and local, began to accept the use of psychologists and psychological assessments more willingly. Psychological assessment refers to scientific methods used by psychologists for the purpose of understanding and explaining an individual’s, couple’s or family’s psychological functioning. Psychological assessments help to define and understand personality, behavior, emoti ons, intelligence, and how they come together.
Such assessments help to answer diagnostic questions, to specify a person’s strengths, weaknesses and personality structure, and to explain and to predict behavior. Assessments that are used in the forensic setting are a leading activity for those whom are involved. Forensic psychological assessments are an in-depth process utilizing extensive interviewing, and standardized psychological tests, which produce reliable, valid and reproducible results. To be all-inclusive, an assessment needs to examine a range of psychological factors, such as cognitive and personality functioning, developmental history, and interpersonal relationships.
These factors can be further broken down into emotional, cognitive, intellectual, developmental, executive, educational, social, neuropsychological, and physiological functioning. Information obtained from standardized psychological assessment has a normative, statistical scientific basis, as it compares the individual against data collected in samples of normal and clinically disordered individuals. It allows the evaluator to determine how similar or dissimilar this person is to people in these samples.
While individuals may attempt to “look good” or “look bad” in interviews, depending on the case at hand, most test instruments contain multiple validity scales on which to evaluate the extent to which the individual is providing honest, candid, defensive, socially desirable, or exaggerated depictions of their psychological health or symptoms. An overall aim of forensic psychological assessment is to provide the basis for concluding both previous and active factors that can help to explain specific actions, and to make recommendations applicable to the legal issues at hand.
The court appoints a psychologist to determine a range of things including mental state, diminished capacity, and competency. When it comes to mental state, a determination is made as to whether there is substantial evidence that the patient suffers a mental disorder. Emotions are not considered a mental disorder. The psychologist needs to consider psychological influences at the scene of the alleged crime. Depending on the outcome of the examination, the psychologist may testify in court how the impaired mental abilities “actually caused a malformation of the mental element of the crime. The psychologist does not have to be certain that the defendant’s disorder caused him or her to be unable to form the intent or knowledge or the crime, but the expert must have some belief in the “probability or possibility” that it did. Experts need to testify with reasonable medical or psychological certainty. Three main areas of defense related to mental health include diminished capacity, competency, or mitigating (justifying) circumstances. A diminished capacity assessment focuses on whether or not a person was able to comprehend the alleged crime being committed.
The psychologist assessed whether the individual, in his/her opinion, was organized, purposeful, and goal oriented. The main question is, whether the defendant’s behavior was affected by a mental disorder of mood or thought, by alcohol and or drug intoxication or an irresistible impulse induced by a mental disease affecting the person so that the person is unable to resist the impulse to commit the act that he or she has been charged with. A competency evaluation assesses whether a person has the mental facility or ability to understand the legal proceedings against them.
Also, the evaluation focuses on determining whether they are able to assist their attorney in their own defense. Mitigating circumstances are sometimes considered regarding the defendant’s capacity to “appreciate the wrongfulness of their conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law. ” Whether a person is charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, their mental state or mental illness is an issue to consider before conviction or before sentencing. The attorney representing the accused person may request a psychological evaluation or sometimes an evaluation is court ordered.
Psychological expert witness testimony may also be used in a personal injury case when the plaintiff makes a case that they suffered undue mental or emotional pain and suffering. In family law cases, the parties may be evaluated with regard to the best interests of the child or children, and a custody and parenting-time recommendation is made. An in-depth evaluation of the parties, an assessment of their parenting and relationships with their children, and an assessment of their children’s status and developmental needs is devised in terms of the children’s best interests and a parenting and custody plan which best meets the children eeds. The following is a list of most widely known and commonly utilized psychological tests in forensic contexts: Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, Fourth Edition (WAIS-IV) – The most recent of the adult Wechsler tests is a general test of intelligence, IQ (general measure of intellectual ability). There are 15 subtests that make up the WAIS-IV; at least 10 must be administered to derive an IQ score. In addition to providing an IQ, scores are derived on the following groups of the WAIS-IV subtests: Verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning, working memory, and processing speed.
For adolescents and children, the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Fourth Edition is used. Rorschach Ink Blot Method – This is a performance-based test instrument. The examinee is presented with the Rorschach inkblots and asked, “What do you see? ” Score results provide insight into the individual’s basic psychological processes such as thinking, impulse control, stress tolerance, reality testing, imagination, and interpersonal relationships.
Compared to self-report measures, the Rorschach is not nearly as vulnerable to impression-management or attempts to exaggerate problems. Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 (MMPI-2) – A self-report personality inventory, and is the most commonly used test in forensic psychological assessment. The MMPI-2 provides information along multiple scopes including clinical syndromes, personality characteristics, psychosocial stressors and severity of disturbance. Scoring provides a number of validity scales.
There are 10 primary clinical scales and a multitude of content and symptom scales. Psychology is a growing field and will continued to be used in the legal content. It is an essential part of cases when dealing with the mentally ill and it aids in providing proper conviction, sentencing and rehabilitation. ——————————————– [ 1 ]. Kitaeff, J. (2010). Forensic psychology. Pearson College Div. [ 2 ]. Fulero, S. M. , & Wrightsman, L. S. (2010). Forensic psychology. (3rd ed. ). New York, NY: Wadsworth Pub Co. 3 ]. Munsterberg, H. (1909). On the witness stand: Essays on psychology and crime. New York: Doubleday, Page (74). [ 4 ]. Costanzo, M. , & Krauss, D. (2011). Forensic and legal psychology. New York, NY: Worth Pub. [ 5 ]. Heilbrun, K. (2001). Principles of forensic mental health assessment. Springer. [ 6 ]. Wrightsman, L. (2001). Forensic psychology. Australia Belmont, Calif: Wadsworth Thomson Learning. [ 7 ]. Rosenfeld, Barry, Steven Penrod, and Barry Rosenfeld. Research Methods in Forensic Psychology. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2011