Impact on Forensic Psychology

One of the first ideas of forensic psychology came about in the late 1800s.  A German psychologist, Hugo Munsterberg claimed that psychology should be applied to the law.  He is often considered the “father” of forensic psychology.  However, it wasn’t until 2001 that the American Psychological Association recognized forensic psychology as a specialization under the study of psychology.  Leading up to this moment, psychologists were consistently asked to testify in the court of law pertaining to the mental health of an accused offender.  As discussed previously, serial murders have been occurring all through out history.  With this reoccurring phenomenon along with many other crimes, forensic psychology was developed as a means to research and dissect human behavior directly in response to the legal system.

Hugo Munsterberg

The study of forensic psychology has deepened the knowledge of what is known about crime.  This includes who is likely to commit the crime?  What are their motives behind the crime?  What led up to this act?  And many other anticipated questions. These psychologists may serve as expert witnesses, competency evaluators, criminal profilers, and trial consultants.

Being able to evaluate crime has led psychologists into the mind of many serial killers. Starting in the year of 1940, New York City was terrorized by a criminal known as the “Mad Bomber.”  This unknown perpetrator had built and set off over thirty bombs through out the city.  Police contacted a local criminologist, Dr. James Bussel and requested that he study the crime scene photos and other evidence.  Based upon the crime scene and evidence, Dr. Bussel was able to infer several characteristics of the offender.  He hypothesized that the “Mad Bomber” would be unmarried, living alone, foreign, and self-educated.  He was most likely in his 50s, living in Connecticut and suffering from extreme paranoia.

Police investigators had the doctor’s description of the offender published in newspapers all around the city.  This led to the quick identification and arrest of George Metesky.  Upon arrest Metesky confessed to his crimes.  Dr. Bussel’s description of the suspect was very accurate.  His strategy of determining characteristics of the offender based upon the crime and surrounding scene, is now known as criminal profiling.  This has developed into a helpful strategy of narrowing down subjects and ultimately arresting the offender.

Criminal profiling is not always as accurate when considering female serial killers.  This is due to the lack of research conducted because of their scarcity.  The main difference between genders is the motive of the killing.  However with society’s increased interest in female offenders, perhaps more research will be obtained.  Therefore the development of forensic psychology will continue!

George Metesky

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