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Forensic Psychology, Its History and Evolution

Forensic psychology refers to an applied discipline focused on the application of psychological research as well as principles within the legal and criminal justice systems. From a critical analysis, one is capable to appreciate how far psychology and law have evolved in the last centuries. William Stern of 1901 appears to be one of the first personalities who gained interest and researched on the field of forensic psychology (Bartol, & Bartol, 2012). In his research, he launched investigations together with his students on the examination of how memory and the level to which an individual would recall at diverse time intervals following observation of a photo. Ideally, the study formed the foundation for examination into the dependability of eyewitness testimony during the court cases proceedings (Weiner, 2006).

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Hugo Munsterberg emerged as the first forensic psychologist after publishing a book on such inaccuracies noted by Stern. The book that was published in the 1908 remains a remarkable hallmark in the linkage of psychology and law in the history of law and was titled “On the Witness Stand.” Lewis Terman, a Stanford psychologist, applied psychology in the justice structure in 1910s (Roesch, Zapf, & Hart, 2010). In his attempt, he revised Binet’s work and developed the famous Stanford-Binet test. This test helps to assess employment candidates for posts within the law enforcement agencies. Additionally, another pioneering research was conducted by William Marston in 1917. This resulted into the growth of the polygraph. The prospective breakthrough here (as shown by Marston) is that a significant connection amidst systolic blood pressure and whether one is deceitful. Such discoveries were appalling and had to stir potential challenges within the legal systems globally. The 1923 case of Frye versus the US in which Marston testified became a turning point for realization of the importance of psychology in the legal system (Weiner, 2006).

Importantly, just prior to the WWII, psychologists working as expert observers in court proceedings were hardly valued compared to medical specialists assuming similar duties. However, the situation was bound to change in 1940 following the case of People versus Hawthorne. in this case, the court ruled that the extent of an expert witness’ knowledge was more crucial relative to whether or not one held a medical degree (Roesch, Zapf, & Hart, 2010). This particular incidence has remained significance in enhancing the linkage between the legal system and psychology. There has seemingly seized to be a greater dependency on clinical evidence as a sole and reliable source of information during court cases. Instead, there has been an adoption of a more comprehensive and analytical investigative methodology of forensic psychology. Presently, forensic psychology has developed and revolved along with the advancement of novel technologies, precedents as well as assessments (Bartol, & Bartol, 2012).

More evidently, forensic psychology is gradually increasing in demand within graduate students. Most colleges as well as universities provide dual degree programs in law together with psychology. Just in 2001, forensic psychology became acknowledged as a specialization in the general psychology by the American Psychological Association. It is apparent that with the increasing advent of novel technologies and their consequent applications, forensic psychology is bound to advance further (Weiner, 2006). It is notable that any information provided in court trials remains beneficial to the juries during the decision-making processes currently.


Bartol, C. & Bartol, A. (2012). Introduction to forensic psychology: Research and application. London: SAGE.

Roesch, R., Zapf, P. & Hart, S. (2010). Forensic psychology and law. Hoboken, N.J: John Wiley & Sons.

Weiner, I. (2006). The handbook of forensic psychology: Ed. by Irving B. Weiner. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

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