Forensic Psychology - Criminology Diploma 11.
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11.1 Describe what Forensic Psychology is, how it works, from basic theories and principals, through research, understanding and explaining results, to the actual application of psychological techniques.
Forensic. Used in or connected with a court of law.
Psychology. The scientific study of mental process and behaviour, the mental make up of a person.
Therefore forensic psychology is the interface between psychology and the law, which would mean that all psychological services provided within a legal matter become forensic psychological services. However, most forensic psychologists provide services that are both clinical and forensic in nature. When a psychologist treats an individual who has been emotionally traumatised by an accident, the treatment is clinical in nature, designed to assist that individual to recover from such trauma. But, when the psychologist is asked to provide a report for the court, regarding the extent of the trauma, and to assess the psychological damage incurred, then the psychologist is providing forensic services.
What is Psychology? It could be called the science of the mind: The human mind being the most complex machine known to man, the source of all our thought and behaviour.
So how can mind be studied? Physically, the mind, something so mysterious and complex, cannot be studied. Should the skull of a willing volunteer be opened up, one would only find the “grey matter” that is a brain. One would not be able to see thought, emotion, behaviour, memory or dreams through physical examination.
So to study the mind, a psychologist needs to adopt similar approaches to scientists in other fields. For example, a nuclear physicist interested in the structure of atoms cannot observe protons, electrons and neutrons directly. Instead, one needs to predict how these elements should behave and devise experiments to confirm or refute these expectations.
In a similar way, psychologists use human behaviour as a clue to the workings of the mind. Although we cannot observe the mind directly, everything we do, think, feel and say is determined by the functioning of the mind. So psychologists take human behaviour as the raw data for testing their theories about how the mind works.
The study of psychology has five basic goals: -
1. Describe – The first goal is to observe behaviour and describe what was observed as objectively as possible, often to the finest detail.
2. Explain – While descriptions come from observable data, psychologists delve beyond the obvious in attempt to explain their observations. In other words, rather than simply explain a person’s action one would attempt to explain why that person acted in that way.
3. Predict – Knowing what happens and why it happens, one can then begin to speculate what may happen in the future.
4. Control – Once one knows what happens, why it happens and what is likely to happen in the future, one can then exert control over it.
5. Improve – Any psychologists attempts to control behaviour must be done in a positive manner; attempting to improve a persons live, not make it worse. Not always the case but always the intention.
Research plays an important role in the field of psychology. Forensic psychologists conduct interviews with criminals to understand why they committed the crimes they did, this research can then be analysed, and conclusions drawn.
Research helps us understand what makes people think, feel and act in certain ways; it allows us to categorise psychological disorders in order to understand the symptoms and impact on the individual and on society; it helps us to understand how intimate relationships, development, schools, family, peers and religion affect us as individuals and as a society; and it helps us to develop effective treatments to improve the quality of live of individuals and groups.
In this sense, psychological research is generally used to: -
· Study development and external factors and the role they play on individuals’ mental health.
· Study people with specific psychological disorders, symptoms or characteristics.
· Develop tests to measure specific psychological phenomenon.
· Develop treatment approaches to improve an individuals’ mental health.
Research Experiments. Without delving into any particular case and keeping all matters general, the first concept of any experiment is to suggest and discuss a theory. A theory being defined as a general principal proposed to explain how a number of separate facts are related, therefore a theory is an idea about a relationship. In order to test whether or not a theory is correct, research is required. Theories are stated in general terms, so it is necessary to define precisely what any experiment is aiming to prove.
To do this, one would need to define the variables in the theory so that they can be tested, every experiment has two types of variables: -
· Independent Variable (IV) – The variable that is manipulated by the experimenter (the input variable).
· Dependent Variable (DV) – The outcome variable (the result of the experiment).
By defining the input variables being used to test a theory, one would arrive at a hypothesis, which is a testable form of theory (a suggested explanation for a group of facts, accepted either as a basis for further verification or as likely to be true).
Working on an example theory that “people who drive sports cars are more aggressive than drivers of other vehicles”. The independent or input variables would be the ages and sex of those being experimented on and the types of car that each drives. The dependent variables, the outcome of the research, would be the aggression shown. Aggression would need to be further defined, such as speeding or cutting up other drivers in traffic. Now having the basics of a simple experiment, one can now write a hypothesis: “People who drive sports cars drive over the speed limit more frequently than people who drive other vehicles”.
Having a hypothesis is the first step towards conducting an experiment but before continuing one must be aware of certain aspects of research that can affect or contaminate any result. These aspects being known as “research biases”, of which there are three types: -
1. Selection Bias – The introduction of error due to systematic differences in the characteristics between those selected and those not selected for a given experiment. To control selection bias, most experiments use what is called “random assignment”, where subjects are assigned to a group based on chance as opposed to human decision.
2. Placebo effect – The influencing of performance due to the subjects belief about the result. As in medication the placebo effect is the measurable, observable, or felt improvement in health not attributable to an actual treatment. To control the placebo effect, subjects are often not informed as to the purpose of the experiment, this is known as blind study.
3. Experimenter bias - When the experimenter expects a certain result from an experiment, one could behave in a manner that could influence the subject to attain that desired result. Utilising a “double blind study” can eliminate experimenter bias, which is a situation where both the experimenter and the subject are blind to the purpose or expected result of the experiment.
Any experiments need to be standardised, meaning that all tests are done using exactly the same specific set of instructions. There are two reasons for this; all subjects of an experiment must be presented with the same instructions, in the same manner, with all data collected exactly the same way; single experiments hold no validation alone, experiments need to be replicated using different subjects making standard instructions necessary. This is the “experimental method” which is the true experiment. To be a true experiment involves a randomised assignment of subjects, standardised instructions, at least one independent variable and one dependent variable.
There are other methods of research that are not as rigorous but could attain useful results: -
· Naturalistic Observation
· Case Study
· Correlation Study
Each of the above has its advantages and disadvantages.
Some forensic pathologists may choose to solely focus on research, ranging anywhere from examination of eyewitness testimonies to developing correctional programmes. Others may choose more practical work like working with offenders in order to reduce their risk of re-offending.
Forensic psychologists work in many different areas of the justice system. Some work in courtrooms; some work for police departments; some work in a prison or detention centre; some work as college professors.
A forensic psychologist may act as an expert witness in court cases, providing the judge and jurors with the psychological facts relevant to the crime. They may also help to advise the judge on what sort of sentence should be handed out, based on the perpetrator’s likelihood to continue the criminal behaviour. Some forensic psychologists study the accuracy of eyewitness testimonies, some work with youthful offenders, and some work with victims and their families.
Some forensic psychologists work in the prison and probation services to develop intervention techniques and treatment programmes for use with both offenders and people under supervision. They develop one-to-one or group treatment programmes to specifically address offending behaviour and psychological need, for example, to manage depression, anger or anxiety. They play a critical role in the assessment of offenders and the provision of support and training for other staff
With such a wide field of possible study, there is almost no limit to what a forensic psychologist can do.
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