Forensic Psychology

Motzkau, Johanna (2014). Forensic Psychology. In: Teo, Thomas ed. Encyclopedia of Critical Psychology. New York: Springer Science, pp. 741–747.



Forensic Psychology is an applied subdiscipline of Psychology that emerged alongside the main discipline in the late nineteenth century. Etymologically, “forensic psychology” translates into “psychology relating to the courtroom,” as the word “forensic” goes back to the Latin “forensis” (i.e., “referring to the forum”), with the forum being the “space for debate” or “disputes to be settled.” There is disagreement as to whether “Forensic Psychology” captures the overall subdiscipline (Bartol & Bartol, 1999) or is itself a subfield of the broader area of “Psychology and Law” (Kapardis, 2010). Operating in a close reciprocal relationship with respective national legal and penal institutions and systems, forensic psychological practice, research, andmethods show distinct international differences as well as reflect national historical, societal, and political characteristics. Theoretical frameworks underpinning research and methods are varied but generally draw from approaches and methodologies common in traditional psychology (including cognitive, developmental, social, and clinical psychology). The field is dominated by experimental research, questionnaire studies, field studies/experiments, and clinical case studies, with very little qualitative research. Applied work sees psychologists directly assisting the police, courts, barristers/solicitors, or penal institutions in evaluating evidence and investigating, defending, or prosecuting cases (criminal, civil, or family law), via assessments, written or oral reports. Practice also includes work on crime prevention, therapeutic interventions for victims, and assessment and treatment of offenders.

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