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date: 02 July 2020

Summary and Keywords

Forensic psychology in the 21st century entails the application of psychology to all aspects of the criminal justice process. Forensic psychologists, therefore, are engaged in the theorization of offending, offender profiling, the psychology of testimony, investigative interviewing, the psychology of juries and judges, and psychological approaches to the punishment and treatment of offenders. Historically, however, forensic psychology, has been narrower in scope.

Founded principally in Europe during the late 19th century as a response to the reform of criminal procedure and research on suggestion, which undermined confidence in witness credibility, forensic psychology was initially pursued by jurists and psychiatrists eager to understand the behavior of all those involved in the criminal justice process. While this ambition was pursued piecemeal by jurists throughout the early 20th century in their studies of guilty knowledge, judges, jurors, and investigators, the exigencies of the courtroom, soon saw the field become focused on the psychology of the witness, particularly the juvenile witness. Important, in this regard were the efforts of both European and American experimental psychologists, whose precarious position within universities at the fin de siècle saw them look for real-world applications for psychology and led them to campaign voraciously for the inclusion of psychological knowledge and psychological expertise in legal proceedings.

Competition between several disciplines, including law, psychology, psychiatry, and pedagogy, over the role of psychological expert made the professionalization of this field difficult up until the Second World War. During the late 1940s and 1950s, however, not only did forensic psychology increasingly become the exclusive purview of psychologists, but the discipline’s scope began to expand. Notable in this regard was offender profiling, which emerged from the psychological analysis of war criminals and the application of the insights gained here to several high-profile criminal cases in the United States.

Keywords: history, forensic psychology, psychology of testimony, association method, offender profiling

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