Criminal Minds: The Science of Forensic Psychology

Course Code: 
PSYC 4559
Lucy Guarnera

Psychopaths. The insanity defense. Violentpredators. Criminal profiling . Such forensic psychology topics feature prominently in the public imagination, and it's easy to see why. Forensic psychology is an attempt to use scientific inquiry to answer complex legal questions about the mental states and behavior of individual human beings, questions like...

  • Are individuals who commit heinous, incomprehensible crimes "mad" or "bad"?
  • Are some people "born bad" and fated to commit crimes?

Perhaps even more importantly for students of psychology, forensic psychology also makes us ask difficult questions about psychological science itself. Forensic psychology began almost 200 years ago as an intuitive, impressionistic art more than a science, with predictably invalid results. Yet the media continues to push this image of the rogue forensic psychologist with uncanny, almost supernatural insight into the criminal mind. Modem forensic psychology has become less mystical and more accurate as it has embraced rigorous scientific techniques. However, these continuing scientific advances make us question the limits of empirical inquiry when it comes making legal decisions predicated on knowing an individual 's mental state or predicting an individual'sfuture behavior. What can and can't psychological science actually tell us when it comes to the 'criminal mind'?"