What roles do forensic psychologists take?
Forensic psychologist can work alongside the police assisting them in their investigations by assisting them to build up criminal profiles. You might also find forensic Psychologists working alongside the prison service to help in the rehabilitation of prisoners or to identify individuals that might have a requirement for psychological treatment to rectify maladaptive behaviours that are the cause of criminal behaviour. These psychologists also work in research to develop better methods of professional practice.
Skills that Forensic psychologists should possess;
An aptitude for both listening and communicating to others’ ideas and information.
The ability to disassemble information in a critical manner and good decision-making skills.
They should also possess good organisation and research skills.
How to become a forensic psychologist complete an undergraduate degree that has been accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS). Another option available to is to undertake a course that is approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). After the completion of the undergraduate degree, anyone wishing to pursue a career as a forensic psychologist will need to complete a master’s degree and a doctorate specialising in forensic psychology. An additional requirement is experience in the field of either the mental health services or within a prison. Forensic psychologists can expect to earn £20,000 after qualifying and upwards of £70,000 as their career progresses and can expect to work approximately 37-40 hours per week.
There are many ways that psychological research has had a significant impact on how we conduct trials. A few examples are research into stereotyping and how it influences juries, attribution theory and eye witness testimony.
Research into stereotyping has shown that as people we have developed stereotyping to help organise and assimilate information about others. It is a natural part of our psychology and it is used throughout our lives, strongly influencing our thought processes. So, if an individual has a predetermined feeling of distrust, dislike or even hatred this will greatly influence how they might behave within a jury. This is not limited to feelings of negativity and some people might be inclined to be more forgiven or lenient towards, for example an attractive lady accused of a minor crime such as vandalism.
When a specific trait overshadows all others possessed by a person, it is referred to in psychology as the “halo” effect. It is a bias that we are not necessarily aware of but does sway us from how we might normal think.
Through stereotyping we apply fixed attributes to an individual that may not actually be correct. One might hear that a young female that has been a church attendee for numerous years that regularly supports charities and fundraisers. If this individual was to then assault someone, people might find this person relatable and would not believe evidence to the contrary.
If we took the same case and the defendant is a young male adult, known for getting into trouble with the police and causing vandalism, this might lead a juror to believe that the accused is guilty regardless of the facts.
Another important piece of research in the field of forensic psychology is that of attribution theory, which states that as people we believe that “bad” things happen to bad people. We believe that if we are good then we hope that only good things will happen to us and vice versa, if a defendant is on trial they must be guilty or they wouldn’t be there.
Attribution theory has also helped improve how victims are supported after a crime has been committed. Victim blaming can occur after a crime is committed and is attributed to the fact that people like to feel safe and if they are able to find a cause for the crime, or justify to themselves why it occurred in the first place they are able to feel protected and safe themselves. This is also relevant when selecting jurors as a juror that has had some similar experiences to the victim of the crime that has occurred might be biased towards the defendant as they might look for justice, excluding the facts of the case, to achieve a feeling that justice has taken place.
James McKeen Cattell was amongst the first psychologists to conduct research into testimony tasking 56 students a variety of questions and getting them to rate how confident they were in their response. He found that how just because an individual is confident what they are saying, it does not necessarily mean that they are right.
Stern was another psychologist that was concerned with witness testimony. In an experiment he staged a fake lesson that ended in with an actor producing a gun and a fight taking place. The students in the “lesson” where asked to give reports of what occurred and Stern found that not only were their mistakes in all the student reports but that as the students described the fight the number of inaccuracies also increased. He attributed this to emotional unrest and conjectured that high levels of emotional tension can affect our about to recall memories.