Personal Construct Perspectives on Forensic Psychology

By James Horley | Go to book overview

Chapter 1

Forensic psychology and personal construct theory

James Horley

The past two or three decades have witnessed a surge in exploration of the relevance of psychological theory and research to matters pertaining to various justice systems, especially criminal justice. Much of this effort has been confined to the assessment and treatment of criminal offenders, but there has been recent interest in such issues as the psychological profiling of criminals and juror selection. These topics, and many more, form the basis of what has come to be known as forensic psychology (see Brigham, 1999).

In the English language, the term 'forensis', or forensic, originally described public debate or discussion, derived from its Greek root 'pertaining to the forum' where debate was conducted in ancient Greece and Rome. Over the past 200 years, however, it came to refer more narrowly to debate or dispute in courts of law. Forensic psychology, now the subdiscipline of psychology concerned with applications of psychological principles and research to the law and offenders, can be traced to at least the late nineteenth century (Bartol & Bartol, 1999) when psychologists began to apply their findings to legal, usually criminal, cases. One of the earliest books in this field was written by Munsterberg (1908) of Harvard University. Munsterberg presented a number of areas of potential psychological relevance to the public. He argued, for example, that eyewitness testimony is often unreliable, a point well taken in light of much recent research. While Munsterberg's project saw little success during his lifetime, in part because of opposition from lawyers and other legal professionals (see Wigmore, 1909), he at least planted a seed that would bear fruit in years to come. This was especially true at Harvard, which became a centre for legal and criminal psychology. A number of Munsterberg's students—such as Marston, who not only invented the character 'Wonder Woman'

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