Forensic Psychology Class Activities

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Forensic psychology is the study of human behavior and mental processes as they apply to the legal system. The activities described here are designed by professors of forensic psychology college courses. They can be used in several different high school or college courses that are related to psychology and law, including introduction to psychology, forensic psychology, and courtroom law.

1 In-Class Discussions

Byron Greenburg,a professor at Virginia State University, lists several in-class discussions in his forensics psychology course syllabus. These include such questions as: “What is forensics psychology?”; “What do forensic psychologists do?”; and “Does profiling really work?” Professor Greenburg warns that some of the subjects, especially those involving violent crimes, discussed in a forensics psychology class may be disturbing to some students. For example, if a student was the victim of rape, or knew someone who was murdered, then topics of rape or murder might be upsetting. He encourages students to feel free to disengage from the exercise and step out of the classroom when needed.

2 Role-Playing and The Insanity Defense

Michael E. Fass, a professor at Miami Dade College, has found role-playing exercises to be successful in actively teaching students about the insanity defense. After students have been introduced to the basics of forensic psychology and case precedents for the insanity defense, he assigns five different roles to students, allowing them each a day to prepare. Each of the roles is for a person who has killed someone and is using the insanity defense. The roles include an angry kid; an intellectually disabled person; a college student with damage to the temporal lobe; someone with schizophrenia; and a college student who was drugged at a party. Students then discuss whether punitive or non-punitive action should be taken in each case, and whether or not their feelings have changed in regard to the insanity defense.

3 Draw a Criminal

Edwina Ricci and Nicole Letch, authors of the textbook “Psychology in Action," have published a wealth of activities for use in forensic psychology courses. For their chapter entitled “Dangerousness," students are instructed to draw a criminal. According to Ricci and Letch, students will most likely draw a young adult male with tattoos, scars, and other marks, committing a violent crime. The purpose of this exercise is to demonstrate that most people have preconceived notions of what a criminal looks like. The instructor then engages the students in a two-part discussion about “white collar crime” as differentiated from violent crime, and about the fact that a criminal could look like any person.

4 Twelve Angry Men

A common activity in forensic psychology classrooms is to watch courtroom dramas. Described by Ricci and Letch, this activity helps to reinforce the lessons in their chapter entitled “Forensic Psychologist in the Courtroom." Students first study a vocabulary sheet containing legal words in the movie they will watch. They then watch the film “Twelve Angry Men." This is an excellent movie to use in analyzing the behavior of a jury. After watching the movie, the students complete a worksheet that helps them to study and analyze courtroom concepts. This activity can work with a variety of courtroom drama movies. Another good movie to use is "Runaway Jury."

Elizabeth Miller started her writing career in 1984. She has been blogging at The Divine Gift of Motherhood since 2007 and regularly contributes to Catholic Media Review, Mamazina Blog and "Suffolk County News." She received her Master of Arts in experimental psychology from St. John's University in Jamaica, N.Y.