Early Implications of Forensic Psychology

Farah Farhat

The history of applying medical science to legal questions, also known as the history of forensic psychology, has a long history that dates back to as far as 44BC. The American Board of Forensic psychology has defined forensic psychology as, “the application of the science and profession of psychology to questions and issues relating to law and the legal system. The word “forensic” comes from the Latin word “forensis,” meaning “of the forum,” where the law courts of ancient Rome were held. Today forensic refers to the application of scientific principles and practices to the adversary process where specially knowledgeable scientists play a role.” Of course like all things, Forensic psychology has a history of development.  The integration of forensic psychology in the judiciary system has grown to be a key dynamic change in the progression of forensic psychology. Human behavior is the essence of psychology and the law. When trying to understand why criminals behave the way they do a behavioral analysis is required in order to conduct a full evaluation of a person. The evaluation of forensic psychology from when psychology was first introduced in the courts to what it is now has changed dynamically. Forensic psychology was implemented in order to protect those who were wrongfully punished and to determine what occurred through forensic evidence collected at crime scenes.

The series of events listed below chronologically depict the influences of forensic work during those times.

  • In 44BC following the assassination of Julius Caesar the attending physician proclaimed that of the 23 wounds found on the body ‘only one’ was fatal.
  • In the 5th century Germanic and Slavic societies were believed to be the first to put down in statute that medical experts should be employed to determine cause of death.
  • In 1247 the first textbook on forensic medicine was published in China which among others things documented the procedures to be followed when investigating a suspicious death.
  • The 1887 coroners act ensured that an integral part of the coroners’ role was to determine the circumstances and the medical causes of sudden, violent and unnatural deaths.
  • The most significant development was the founding of the first psychological

    Wilhelm Wundt (seated) with colleagues in his psychological laboratory, the first of its kind

    laboratory in 1879 by Wilhelm Wundt in Leipzig Germany. Wundt championed and refined the experimental method within psychology. This rigorous methodology provided the framework for a whole host of applied psychological investigations, among them certain legal issues.

  • 1932 chair of legal medicine at Harvard was established


The video below discusses some of the roles of criminal psychologists by Laurence Miller, Ph.D., author of “Criminal Psychology-Nature, Nurture, Culture”.



Media References (in order of appearance):

Wilhelm wundt. In (2012). Answers.com. Retrieved from http://www.answers.com/topic/wilhelm-wundt

DIVEINTOPSYCHOLOGY1. (2001, April 1). What’s Criminal Psychology? November, 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zh5EAKAiwOo&feature=related.

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