A forensic psychologist is a psychologist who works within the legal profession or court system providing a variety of services. A forensic psychologist can work in either the criminal or civil law system or both.
Forensic psychology got its start in the late 1890s and early 1900s. J. McKeen Cattell was one of the first people to conducted research in an area related to forensic psychology. Cattell did some early research on testimonies given during court trials and found that there was a lot of inaccuracy in a witness's testimony. This work was built on by both Alfred Binet and William Stern. Stern found that strong emotions had a negative impact on a witness's ability to accurately recall an observed situation.
Binet's work on psychological testing was very important for the development of forensic psychology. Binet and another psychologist, Theodore Simon, developed an intelligence test for children and the concepts behind this psychometric test were used to develop other psychometric tests that could be used to assess intelligence in adults as well as an adult's competency to stand trial.
At the same time that this research was being conducted, psychologists in Europe were beginning to testify as expert witnesses in trials. In 1923, psychologist William Marston, the person who discovered that systolic blood pressure was related to lying, testified in a court case that established the precedent for using expert witnesses in court. The court found that as long as a procedure or assessment was generally accepted by other people in the same profession, then it could be used as evidence. This ruling allowed psychologists to be used as expert witnesses in court cases and really jumpstarted the field of Forensic Psychology.
Forensic psychology stagnated a bit until after World War II. During this time, psychologists were used as expert witnesses but medical specialists were thought to be more credible witnesses and were used more often. In 1940, the courts ruled that being an expert witness was dependent on a person's knowledge and not simply possessing a medical degree.
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