Evolution of Assessment in Forensic Psych (Rob Jones)

            The past 25 years have been a time of great evolution in the field of Forensic Psych. This development has been largely fueled by the implementation of specialized tools of assessment. These tools examine a multitude of psychological factors, which enable comprehensive understanding of an individual and can provide invaluable information in courtroom proceedings.

Factors traditionally included in forensic psych examinations are typically divided into intellectual and personality functioning. These two can then be broken down into particular elements of each: emotional, cognitive, intellectual, developmental, executive, educational, social, organic, neuropsychological, and physiological, (Shapse).

Throughout the history of forensic psych, a number of assessment tests have been used in courtrooms to aid in the understanding of abnormal and criminal behavior. Some of the tests used throughout the years are: The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, the Rorschach Ink Blot Test and The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory.

– David Wechsler originally developed the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale in 1921 during World War 1 in order to assess soldiers’ ability to act purposefully, think rationally, and deal effectively with the environment, (Shapse). Throughout its history, the WAIS has undergone many changes from its original form to the most current model, the WAIS-IV. When Weschler originally created the test, he was inspired by what he saw as shortcomings in Alfred Binet’s famous test:  Binet’s was not applicable for adults, only gave a single intelligence score, overemphasized speed and timed tests and didn’t address deterioration of IQ with age. Weschler set out to design a test that would address these issues and today, in its fourth overhaul, the WAIS is one of the most widely utilized forensic assessment tools.

David Wechsler

-The Rorschach Ink Blot Test is “an open-structured, performance-based cognitive perceptual problem-solving task” developed in the 1930’s by Hermann Rorschach. Participants are presented with an ambiguous blot and are asked to describe what they see in the ink, (Weiner, 2001). The responses are then gauged on a specific scale and inferences about ones personality characteristics and emotional functioning can be asserted. Rorschach evidence has been used in a vast array of different court proceedings including:

1. Criminal: Murder, attempted murder, embezzlement, child sexual abuse, assault, and rape.

2. Civil: Post-traumatic stress disorder, job related anxiety/depression, psychological impact of physical injury, medical malpractice, and legal malpractice.

3. Domestic: Child custody, fitness to parent, and termination of parental rights.

4. Quasi-legal: Workers compensation, fitness to serve (law enforcement), and sexual harassment on the job. (Sciara, 2008)

In recent years, the validity and reliability of the Rorschach have been heavily scrutinized, particularly in regards to the Exner Comprehensive System form commonly used. Defenders of the Rorschach tend to rely largely on the idea that the Rorschach provides an informal validity which can offer useful insight into a personality. In the American Psychologist, Silver (2001) conceded that evidence of the CS validity is weak. He then went on to justify his continuing use of the Rorschach, saying: “I am unwilling to discard this instrument. I think of the Rorschach as sampling a domain of behavior, which gives information that I have found to be useful,”(p. 1009)

-The Minnesota Multiphastic Personality Inventory is an objective personality inventory developed in 1939 at the University of Minnesota by Dr. Starke Hathaway and J.C. McKinley. Since its inception the MMPI has been considered the “gold standard” in personality inventories and remains one of the most widely used assessment tools in forensic psychology and numerous other fields. Initially what set the MMPI above other personality inventories was its atheoretical, empirical approach at assessment, un-influenced by the popular psychodynamic models of the time. This empirical nature of the test has allowed it to evolve with the increasingly specialized demands of each passing era, (Framingham, 2011)


Framingham, J. (2011). Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI).Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2012, from, R. J. (2001). Practicing professional psychology. American Psychologist, 56, 1008 – 1014.

Sciara, A. (2008). The Rorschach Comprehensive System Use in the Forensic Setting. Rorschach Training Program. Retrieved November 20, 2012, from

Shapse, S. (n.d). Forensic Psychological Assessment. Expert Witness | Forensic, Legal & Medical Expert Witnesses. Retrieved November 23, 2012, from

Silver, R. J. (2001). Practicing professional psychology. American Psychologist, 56, 1008 – 1014.

Weiner, I. B. (2001). The value of Rorschach assessment. Harvard Mental Health Letter, 4 – 5.



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