Forensic psychology is psychology related to the law. The field involves the application of science to the legal system and deals with the intersection of human behavior and criminal law. Forensic psychologists help unravel the details in a case, such as who could have committed the crime, what motivated the criminal and how the perpetrator planned the event. You can research the career of a forensic psychologist or subtopics in the field, or you can focus on a specific case in which forensic psychology played a vital role.
Role of the Forensic Psychologist
Research the general role of a forensic psychologist. Forensic psychologists assess individuals who are involved with the legal system. The profession requires strong clinical assessment and interviewing skills as well as solid written and oral communication skills. Research the career path and educational requirements. Learn about the tasks or services forensic psychologists perform, such as child custody evaluations and competency evaluations of criminal defendants. Evaluate how this role has changed over the years as technology has advanced.
Investigate the role forensic psychology played in a specific case. For instance, forensic psychology helped convict Ted Kaczynski in the Unabomber case. In 1979, the Federal Bureau of Investigation assembled a task force to conduct forensic examinations of recovered bomb components and to study the lives of the victims and the language used in the Unabomber's letters and writings. Forensic psychology also affected the Casey Anthony case and helped defense attorneys elicit compassion for Anthony, who was acquitted of murdering her daughter in 2011. Forensic psychology can unveil the human frailties, pathologies, selfishness, rage and tragic circumstances that motivate defendants to commit evil deeds, providing jurors with ways of understanding why humans behave badly, Stephen A. Diamond explains in the June 2011 edition of "Psychology Today."
Mental illness as it relates to insanity pleas is an important area of research in forensic psychology. The law considers that a person's responsibility for committing a crime is based on his mental state and whether he intended to commit the crime and was aware of the consequences. Research the types of mental illness that arise in criminal cases and how forensic psychologists are able to assess individuals and determine whether an insanity plea is viable.
Research the area of handwriting analysis, which is used to determine authorship of documents. It is used in forgery crimes and the analysis of suicide notes, for example. A particular handwriting style may connect with a certain mental illness, helping a forensic psychologist determine the perpetrator of a crime. The psychologist may look for particular details in the writing, such as whether print or cursive was used, how thick the lines are, and the smudging or size of letters. Research how this area of forensic psychology has changed as technology has made it possible for documents to be typewritten or to appear solely online.
- American Psychological Association; What Is Forensic Psychology?; Jane Tyler Ward, Ph.D.
- Slate Magazine; Can You Fake Mental Illness; Douglas Starr
- Crime Library; The Art of Forensic Psychology; Katherine Ramsland
- AlleyDog: Psychology Topics -- Forensic Psychology
- Psychology Today; Evil Deeds: Did Casey Kill Caylee? How Forensic Psychology Can Help Humanize Evil Deeds; Stephen A. Diamond
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