Select your language

Suggested languages for you:
Log In Start studying!
StudySmarter - The all-in-one study app.
4.8 • +11k Ratings
More than 3 Million Downloads
Free
|
|

All-in-one learning app

  • Flashcards
  • NotesNotes
  • ExplanationsExplanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Start studying

Forensic Psychology

Save Save
Print Print
Edit Edit
Sign up to use all features for free. Sign up now

Want to get better grades?

Nope, I’m not ready yet

Get free, full access to:

  • Flashcards
  • Notes
  • Explanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
Forensic Psychology

The Mentalist, Bones, and Mindhunter what do all these TV series have in common? The answer is forensic psychology.

This article digs into the concept of forensic psychology, its definition, methods, and research.

Forensic psychology applies psychology to law and the criminal justice system.

An example of forensic psychology is the Netflix series Mindhunter. The FBI agents try to identify patterns in the early life experiences of serial killers to prevent at-risk individuals from becoming murderers as adults.

Forensic psychology methods to measure crime

Before applying psychological concepts to crime, we must define and measure it.

Defining crime

Although the definition of crime as an act that violates the law seems clear, what is illegal changes with time, place, and culture.

Measuring crime

There are three main methods used to measure crimes rates:

  • Official statistics: Government records of total crimes reported and recorded in official figures.
  • Victim surveys: Each year, the Crime Survey for England and Wales sends a survey to 50,000 households asking them to report any crimes they have been victims of in the previous year.
  • Offender surveys: Individuals volunteer information about the number and type of crimes they have committed.

Offender profiling in forensic psychology research

Part of the FBI’s job in Mindhunter was also to help investigators accurately predict the profiles of unknown criminals.

Two main approaches to profiling offenders in forensic psychology research are top-down and bottom-up.

The top-down approach

In offender profiling, investigators profile the offender as they believe him to be. They can then use this information to create a template to identify future criminals this approach is known as the American approach, typology approach or top-down approach.

However, this approach assumes that murderers have a particular behaviour (often known as their modus-operandi or ‘MO’). These types of murderers are known as organised offenders. However, some disorganised offenders show little sign of planning.

The bottom-up approach

Investigators examine crime scenes, analyses evidence, and talk to witnesses to hypothesise about the likely characteristics of the perpetrator, such as his age, weight, height, occupation, background, and so on. There are two main types of this approach:

  • Investigative psychology: details from the crime scene are matched with statistical analysis of offenders to find the most likely match.
  • Geographic profiling: examining crime scenes to determine the offender’s base and possible future crimes.

Forensic Psychology Offender profile example StudySmarter

Offender profile example, Canva

Criminology and forensic psychology: Biological explanations

Several biological explanations and theories for criminality exist in criminology, such as atavistic form, genetic and neural explanations.

Atavistic form

This theory, which Cesare Lombroso put forth in 1876, states that criminals are less evolved people or primitive subspecies unfit for modern society. Lombroso noted that this criminal subspecies could be identified by specific characteristics such as a prominent jaw, high cheekbones, supernumerary toes, dark skin, and asymmetry of the face.

Genetic and neural explanations

Psychologists have also tried to find genetic and neural explanations for criminality. Twin studies and candidate genes are essential parts of this process. Studies by researchers such as Tiihonrn et al. (2014) have shown that abnormalities in the MAOA and CDH12 genes can predict criminal behaviour.

Other psychologists claim that there may be neural differences between criminals and non-criminals. Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) has been consistently linked to criminal behavior, and research has shown that activity in the prefrontal cortex and mirror neurons is reduced in APD patients. This finding suggests that there may be a neural basis for explaining criminality.

Criminology and forensic psychology: Psychological explanations

Are murderers born or made? Let’s look at what forensic psychology research and approaches say about this.

Eysenck’s theory of the criminal personality

Eysenck (1964), a critical exponent of personality and intelligence research, stated that behaviour could be divided into three categories: introversion/extroversion (E), neuroticism/stability (N), and psychoticism (P). According to Eysenck, we inherit the extent and type of character traits through our nervous system, which means that criminality could have a biological basis.

Eysenck explained that the criminal personality type is neurotic-extroverted with a high degree of psychoticism.

However, Eysenck also stated that criminals are formed by a combination of criminal personality and socialisations, meaning that his approach is a hybrid one, both biological and social.

Cognitive explanations

Several explanations for criminal behavior suggest that offenders think differently than their peers.

Levels of moral reasoning

The levels of moral reasoning developed by Kohlberg (1958) refer to how far someone goes to think about the morality of their behavior. According to Kohlberg, criminals have a lower level of moral reasoning, which means that they feel less about the morality of their actions.

Forensic Psychology Arrest StudySmarterArrest, Canva

Cognitive biases

According to cognitive theory, criminals also have cognitive biases (information processing errors or biases) that influence their behaviour. Two examples are:

  • Hostile attribution: Viewing the behaviour as aggressive or threatening when not.
  • Minimalisations: Downplaying an event or emotion, e.g., guilt.

Differential association theory

This theory, developed by Sutherland, states that criminal behaviour is learned through interaction. Potential offenders learn the values, attitudes, techniques and motives for criminal behavior, which leads them to copy them.

Criminology and forensic psychology: Psychodynamic explanations

Psychodynamic explanations for criminal behaviour provide further clues as to what makes a criminal. Let us dive in.

The superego

Blackburn (1993) suggests that differential development of the superego can lead to criminal behaviour:

  • The weak superego: When a child does not identify with a parent, they do not internalise a superego, which leads to immoral or criminal behaviour.
  • The deviant superego : If a child internalises an immoral or deviant superego, this can lead to criminal behavior.
  • The overly harsh superego leads to debilitating guilt and anxiety in a child, resulting in criminal behaviour to satisfy the superego’s need for punishment.

Maternal deprivation theory

Bowlby (1944) asserts that a child who cannot form a solid attachment to their mother figure is less likely to form meaningful relationships in adulthood and is more likely to develop a personality type of ‘loveless psychopathy’. A lack of guilt, empathy, and feelings for others, all traits associated with criminal behaviour, characterise this personality type.

Dealing with offending behaviour

So, the offender committed a crime. What next?

Several opener management approaches exist. Have a peek at them below.

Custodial sentencing

Custodial sentencing is when the court orders the offender to serve time in a prison or other closed therapeutic / educational facility such as a psychiatric hospital.

The custodial sentence has many purposes :

  • Deterrence.
  • Incapacitation.
  • Retribution.
  • Rehabilitation.

It also has many psychological effects:

  • Stress and depression.
  • Institutionalisations.
  • Prisonisation.

In this section, we also address recidivism or re-offending.

Forensic Psychology Prison cell block StudySmarterPrison cell block, Canva

Behaviour modification in custody

Behavior modification in custody applies the behaviorist approach that attempts to replace criminal behavior with desirable, productive behavior by using positive / negative reinforcement . A clear example of this is the idea of ‘getting out on good behaviour’ where punishment is reduced for inmates as a reward for good behavior while incarcerated.

Anger management

This approach to behaviour change involves a therapeutic program to identify and manage the anger that may have led to criminal behaviour. This process consists of three phases:

  • Cognitive preparation.
  • Skill acquisition.
  • Application practice.

Restorative justice

This method of dealing with criminal behaviour focuses on reconciliation between offender and victim. The aim is to enable the offender to understand their crime’s impact and empower victims by giving them a ‘voice’.

Forensic Psychology - Key takeaways

  • Forensic psychology is the psychological investigation of crimes.

  • We can define crimes using official characteristics, victim surveys and offender surveys.

  • Offender profiling can be done in several ways, top-down and bottom-up.

  • Biological explanations for crime include atavistic forms and genetic/neural explanations.

  • Psychological explanations of crime include Eysenck’s theory, cognitive explanations, and differential association theory.

  • Psychodynamic explanations for crime include a malformed superego and maternal deprivation theory.

  • We can treat delinquent behavior through incarceration, behaviour modification, anger management, and restorative justice.

Frequently Asked Questions about Forensic Psychology

Forensic psychology applies psychology to law and the criminal justice system.

Forensic psychology can help prevent and explain crime.

Criminal psychologists develop psychological profiles of criminals to understand them or prevent crime. Forensic psychologists look at crime more widely and apply this study to the criminal justice system.

Criminal psychologists develop psychological profiles of criminals to understand them or prevent crime. Forensic psychologists look at crime more widely and apply this study to the criminal justice system. 

Forensic psychology can help us understand criminal motivations and influences. 

Final Forensic Psychology Quiz

Question

What information does an offender profile provide?

Show answer

Answer

  • The likely social (e.g. employment, marital status) and mental characteristics (e.g. level of education, motivation) of the offender. 

  • Predicts who, where and when the offender is likely to attack next.

  • Possible interview strategies to obtain information about crimes committed and confession of guilt.

Show question

Question

When was offender profiling first used?

Show answer

Answer

1888 in the case of Jack the Ripper.

Show question

Question

What case led to considerable interest in offender profiling?


Show answer

Answer

The case of ‘mad bomber’ George Metesky who eluded New York City police for 16 years from 1940-1956.

Show question

Question

Why is the top-down approach named so?

Show answer

Answer

It tries to fit crime details into predetermined categories.

Show question

Question

What are the two categories of the top-down approach?


Show answer

Answer

Organised and disorganised behaviour

Show question

Question

Holmes and Holmes (1998) suggested what four types of serial killer?


Show answer

Answer

  • Visionary (believes someone or an entity is commanding him to kill, likely suffering from psychosis)

  • Mission (in order to rid society of a certain group of people)

  • Hedonistic (for own personal pleasure) 

  • Power/control (fantasizes about having power, seeks to control victims)

Show question

Question

The top-down approach assumes that the offender’s behaviour is constructed from stable personality traits. However, what do Alison et al. (2002) argue?

Show answer

Answer

An offender’s behaviour can also be influenced by external factors so it's not stable and predictable.

Show question

Question

How did Canter's (2004) findings challenge the categories of ‘organised’ and ‘disorganised’?


Show answer

Answer

He analysed the data of 100 murders and found there was support for the ‘organised’ category but no support for ‘disorganised’.

Show question

Question

How does the bottom-up approach differ from the top-down approach?


Show answer

Answer

The bottom-up approach aims to generate an offender’s profile by looking at the evidence. There are no ‘typologies’, the profile is data-driven and emerges as more and more details of the offence are known.

Show question

Question

What are the two methods of the bottom-up approach?


Show answer

Answer

Investigative psychology and geographical profiling.

Show question

Question

What is ‘crime mapping’?


Show answer

Answer

Looking at the location of crimes that seem to have been committed by the same offender.

Show question

Question

What is ‘centre of gravity’?


Show answer

Answer

What an offender is thinking, how they like to operate, where they live or base themselves.

Show question

Question

What is ‘jeopardy surface’?


Show answer

Answer

Where an offender is likely to strike next.

Show question

Question

How do Canter and Heritage's (1990) findings support the usefulness of statistical analysis in investigative psychology?


Show answer

Answer

Canter and Heritage (1990) analysed 66 sexual assault cases. They found common behavioural characteristics of offenders such as impersonal use of language and lack of reaction to the victim, different patterns of behaviours were found for different offenders. This information can be used to predict how an offender’s pattern of behaviour may change, or if crimes were committed by the same offender.

Show question

Question

How do Lundrigan and Canter's (2001) findings support the use of geographical profiling?


Show answer

Answer

Lundrigan and Canter (2001) analysed information from 120 murder cases involving serial killers in America. They found that the killers disposed of bodies in locations that created a ‘centre of gravity’. Their residence or base was always located in the centre of this circle. This effect was more noticeable for the marauder model.

Show question

Question

Who proposed differential association theory and when?

Show answer

Answer

Sutherland proposed this theory in 1939.

Show question

Question

What does differential association theory state?

Show answer

Answer

People learn to become offenders through interactions with others (friends, peers, family members). Criminal behaviours are learned through other people’s values, attitudes, methods, and motives.

Show question

Question

How can the theory explain why crime is more prevalent in certain communities?

Show answer

Answer

Perhaps the people are all learning from each other in some aspect, or the community’s general attitude is ‘pro-crime’.

Show question

Question

How can the theory explain why convicts after their release from prison frequently continue offensive behaviour?

Show answer

Answer

Often, in prison, they have learned how to improve their ‘technique’ through observational learning and imitation, or even through direct learning from one of the other prisoners.

Show question

Question

What were the six most significant risk factors for criminal activity at age 8–10, according to Farrington et al. (2006)?

Show answer

Answer

  1. Crime in the family
  2. Impulsivity
  3. Low IQ and low school attainment
  4. Poverty
  5. Poor parenting

Show question

Question

What is a strength and weakness of Farrington et al. (2006) study?

Show answer

Answer

The study shows support for differential association theory; however, some of the factors can also be due to genetics.

Show question

Question

What were the findings of the Osborne and West (1979) study?

Show answer

Answer

Osborne and West (1979) compared family criminal records and found that when a father had a criminal record, 40% of sons also had a criminal record by age 18, compared with 13% of sons of fathers who did not have a criminal record. 

Show question

Question

What conclusions can be drawn from the Osborne and West (1979) study?

Show answer

Answer

This finding suggests that children learn criminal behaviour from their fathers in families with a convicted father through differential association. However, one could also argue that genetics could be to blame since convicted fathers and sons share the genes that predispose them to criminality.

Show question

Question

How do Akers’ (1979) findings support differential association theory?

Show answer

Answer

Akers (1979) surveyed 2500 male and female adolescents. They found that differential association and reinforcement accounted for 68% of the variance in marijuana use and 55% of the variance in alcohol use.

Show question

Question

What are the two strengths of differential association theory?

Show answer

Answer

The strengths of differential association theory are that it can explain different types of crimes and crimes committed by people from different socioeconomic backgrounds. It has also changed people’s view of crime from individual (genetic) factors to social factors.

Show question

Question

Why was changing people’s views on crime from blaming individual (biological) factors to social factors a major point?

Show answer

Answer

This has real-world applications as a person’s environment can be changed, but genetics cannot.

Show question

Question

What are the weaknesses of differential association theory?

Show answer

Answer

  • The research on it is correlational, thus we do not know if interactions and associations with others are the real cause of crimes.
  • The theory does not explain why criminality decreases with age.
  • The theory is hard to empirically measure and test.
  • It can account for less severe crimes such as burglary but cannot explain crimes such as murder. Lastly, biological factors are not taken into account.

Show question

Question

What were the findings of Newburn (2002)?

Show answer

Answer

Newburn (2002) found that people under the age of 21 commit 40% of crimes and that many offenders stop committing crimes when they get older.

Show question

Question

Give an example of why the theory is hard to measure and test.

Show answer

Answer

Sutherland states that when the number of interpretations favourable to breaking the law exceeds the number of interpretations unfavourable (through more contact with people who favour the crime), a person becomes a criminal. However, it is hard to empirically measure this. How do we accurately measure the number of favourable/unfavourable interpretations a person has experienced their whole life?

Show question

Question

The differential association theory does not take biological factors into account. What model may better explain offensive behaviour?

Show answer

Answer

Diathesis-stress model

Show question

Question

Who created the theory of atavistic form?

Show answer

Answer

Cesare Lombroso created the theory of atavistic form.

Show question

Question

Define atavistic form.

Show answer

Answer

Atavistic form is a biological approach to crime that attributes criminal activity to offenders being genetic throwbacks or a primitive subspecies unable to adapt to the rules of modern society. According to this approach, we can recognise such individuals are distinguishable by certain facial and cranial features.

Show question

Question

What name did Lombroso call criminals?

Show answer

Answer

Genetic throwbacks.

Show question

Question

Select the correct statement:

Show answer

Answer

Atavistic form claims that criminality is a natural tendency, rooted in genetics.

Show question

Question

What did Lombroso believe was different about criminals compared to the rest of us?

Show answer

Answer

Lombroso believed criminals lacked evolutionary development, and their inability to conform to society would lead them to crime.

Show question

Question

What are ‘atavistic characteristics’?

Show answer

Answer

Atavistic characteristics are physical markers that distinguish criminals from other people, especially the head and face.

Show question

Question

Which of the following are NOT atavistic facial features? (select all that apply)

Show answer

Answer

High cheekbones.

Show question

Question

What are the atavistic characteristics of murderers?

Show answer

Answer

The atavistic characteristics of murderers are bloodshot eyes, curly hair, and long ears.

Show question

Question

What are the atavistic characters of sexual deviants?

Show answer

Answer

The atavistic characteristics of sexual deviants are glinting eyes, swollen fleshy lips, and projecting ears.

Show question

Question

True or false: Lombroso claimed tattoos and unemployment are non-physical atavistic characteristics.

Show answer

Answer

True.

Show question

Question

What were Lombroso’s findings after examining the facial features of hundreds of Italian convicts?

Show answer

Answer

Lombroso claimed 40% of criminal acts could be determined by atavistic characteristics.

Show question

Question

What did Hollin (1989) name Lombroso?

Show answer

Answer

Father of modern criminology.

Show question

Question

How did Matt DeLisi (2012) criticise Lombroso?

Show answer

Answer

He pointed out that many of the ‘atavistic characteristics’ are typical of people of African descent. Also, his references to ‘primitive, savage, uncivilised’ people resonate with many of the eugenicist philosophies of the time.

Show question

Question

What were Charles Goring’s study findings of 3,000 criminals and non-criminals?


Show answer

Answer

Charles Goring found no evidence showing that one group exhibited distinct facial characteristics the other group did not.

Show question

Question

Explain why one of Lombroso’s research weaknesses is the issue of casualty.

Show answer

Answer

His study suggests a correlation between criminality and particular characteristics, not direct causation. Therefore, these characteristics may have been due to other linked factors, e.g., poverty or poor diet.

Show question

Question

Whose earlier work on the biological foundations of criminality does this research draw on?

Show answer

Answer

This research draws from Lombroso’s work on the biological foundations of criminality.

Show question

Question

What do genes consist of?

Show answer

Answer

Genes consist of strands of DNA.

Show question

Question

Our DNA provides ‘instructions’ for two kinds of physical features of an organism, which can then influence psychological features. What are the two kinds of features?


Show answer

Answer

DNA provides instructions for the general physical features of an organism (e.g., height) and specific physical features (e.g., neurotransmitter levels).

Show question

Question

What is a neural explanation?

Show answer

Answer

Neural explanation is any explanation of behaviour (and its disorders) in terms of (mal)functions of the brain and nervous system.

Show question

Question

What was Lombroso’s theory of crime called?

Show answer

Answer

Altruistic form.

Show question

60%

of the users don't pass the Forensic Psychology quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

Start Quiz

Discover the right content for your subjects

No need to cheat if you have everything you need to succeed! Packed into one app!

Study Plan

Be perfectly prepared on time with an individual plan.

Quizzes

Test your knowledge with gamified quizzes.

Flashcards

Create and find flashcards in record time.

Notes

Create beautiful notes faster than ever before.

Study Sets

Have all your study materials in one place.

Documents

Upload unlimited documents and save them online.

Study Analytics

Identify your study strength and weaknesses.

Weekly Goals

Set individual study goals and earn points reaching them.

Smart Reminders

Stop procrastinating with our study reminders.

Rewards

Earn points, unlock badges and level up while studying.

Magic Marker

Create flashcards in notes completely automatically.

Smart Formatting

Create the most beautiful study materials using our templates.

Just Signed up?

Yes
No, I'll do it now

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.