Forensic Psychology Key Historical Figures

Forensic Psychology Key Historical Figures



To fully appreciate a​ subject it's important to​ be aware of​ the key historical figures who helped shape its identity. This article identifies a​ number of​ individuals who did just that within the field of​ forensic psychology.

Wilhelm Wundt

In terms of​ a​ tangible landmark in​ the history of​ forensic psychology the most significant development was the founding of​ the first psychological laboratory in​ 1873 by Wilhelm Wundt in​ Leipzig Germany.

Wilhelm 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. For instance, a​ number of​ experiments were conducted into the nature of​ witness testimony, the findings of​ which highlighted the effects of​ situational and individual differences; which incidentally are still being examined today.

Hugo Munsterberg

An engaging and controversial figure Hugo Munsterberg was a​ key figure in​ the history of​ forensic psychology. He studied under Wundt at​ Leipzg before moving to​ the USA in​ 1892 to​ set up an​ experimental laboratory at​ Harvard; the principal aim of​ which was to​ introduce applied psychology into the courtroom.

He conducted research into witness memory, false confessions and the role of​ hypnosis in​ court. One of​ his earliest experiments tested subjects’ ability to​ discriminate between sounds heard in​ quick succession. Almost sixty years later his findings were included as​ part of​ the preparation for the trial (which for obvious reasons never actually took place) of​ Lee Harvey Oswald to​ help address the question of​ how many shots had been fired during the assassination of​ President Kennedy.

William Marston

Another important visionary in​ the history of​ forensic psychology. Marston was a​ student under Munsterberg who conducted research into the physiological effects of​ deception i.e. lie detector tests.

Alfred Binet

In 1889 Alfred Binet co-founded the first psychological laboratory in​ France. Having studied medicine and law he was interested in​ how psychology could be applied within the legal system, particularly in​ relation to​ witness testimony. However, it​ was Binet’s work into intellectual assessment that was to​ have the greatest forensic impact. Working alongside Theodore Simon, he developed the first psychometric test of​ intelligence, the principles of​ which proved the basis for later forensic assessment. For instance, in​ the US the Wechsler Intelligence test for children was regularly employed as​ part of​ proceedings within juvenile court.

Later, group testing became extremely popular, particularly within the armed services as​ a​ way of​ selecting recruits and before long objective tests were being employed across a​ host of​ professions and for a​ variety of​ purposes as​ a​ means of​ measuring behavioural traits, skills, attitudes etc. Significantly for the practice of​ forensic psychology this included the judiciary who began allowing test results to​ be presented as​ evidence in​ court.




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