Summary Forensic Psychology
Forensic Psychology: Crime, Justice, Law, Interventions
By The British Psychological Society, Third Edition
Part 1: The Causes of Crime
Chapter 1: Psychological Approaches to Understanding Crime
Two contemporary psychological theories of crime:
1) Moral reasoning theory
2) The social information-processing approach to explaining crime
1.2. Psychological Theories
1.2.1. Moral Reasoning Theory
Moral reasoning= how individuals reason about and justify their behavior with respect to moral
Moral reasoning approach: cognitive-developmental approach by Piaget (1932) and Kohlberg (1969).
Six stages of moral reasoning through which individuals progress, with reasoning becoming more
abstract and complex.
Revised by Gibbs (2003, 20010, 2014): sociomoral reasoning: roles of social perspective-taking and
empathy given greater emphasis:
Stage 1 and 2: immature moral reasoning. Reasoning is superficial and egocentric.
Stage 3 and 4: mature morale reasoning. Show understanding of interpersonal relationships
and other people’s needs and at stage 4, societal needs. Need for acquisition of social
perspective-taking skills for reasoning at these two stages, in order to allow for emotions
such as empathy to play a part in motivating decisions about reasoning and behavior.
Relationship between moral reasoning and offending.
Immature moral reasoning
Mature moral reasoning
Stage 1: Unilateral
Stage 2: Exchanging
Stage 3: Mutual and
Stage 4: Systemic and
Reasoning refers to
Reasoning reflects an
Reasoning reflects an
incorporates a basic
figures (e.g. parents)
and the physical
relationship and the
systems, with appeals
However, this is
typically in terms of
associated with these.
show little or no
Empathy and social
rights and values, and
with the benefits to
perspective-taking are character/integrity.
the individual being of apparent, along with
ideas appeals to one’s
Offender is morally justified if:
Punishment can be
The benefits to the
It maintains personal
It maintains society or
is sanctioned by a
The circumstances in which offending/recidivism usually occurs reflects moral reasoning at the less
mature stages. Gibbs considered what particular features characterize the moral development of
1) Developmental delay in moral judgement.
2) Self-serving cognitive distortions.
3) Social skill deficiencies.
Main offence-supporting distortion= egocentric bias: characteristic of immature moral reasoning and
thinking styles of offenders.
Secondary cognitive distortions proposed to support egocentricity in contributing to offending:
1) Blaming others or external factors rather than oneself for behaviour that harms other
2) Having a hostile attributional bias, by which ambiguous events/social interactions are
interpreted as hostile.
3) Minimizing consequences/mislabeling one’s own antisocial behaviour in order to reduce
feelings of guilt and regret.
Some evidence that offenders have social skill deficits that can impact on their behaviour in social
situations. Within the moral reasoning theory framework, offending behaviour is seen as a result of
sociomoral developmental delay beyond childhood, accompanied by an egocentric bias. The
secondary cognitive distortions then allow individuals to disengage from taking responsibility for
their behaviour on a moral level.
1.2.2. Social Information-Processing Theory
Model of social information progressing by Crick and Dodge (1994): Describes how individuals
perceive their social world and process information about it, and the influence of previous
experience on these processes. Six steps:
1. Encoding of social cues: social cues are perceived and encoded.
2. Interpretations and mental representation of the situation: above is used along with social
knowledge structures to interpret the situation and provide a mental representation of it.
When interpreting the situation, attributions are made about the intent of other people and
the causality of events. Processes are influenced by previous experiences in the form of
social schema and scripts, to provide cognitive shortcuts to help process information quickly.
3. Clarifications of goals/outcomes for the situation: individual chooses their preferred
goals/outcomes for the situation. Likely to be influenced by pre-existing goal orientations,
and the modification of these in line with the social cues associated with this situation.
4. Access or construction of response for the situation: requires individuals to generate a
range of possible responses to the situation. May be achieved with reference to past
experience in similar situations or by creating new response.
5. Choice of response: responses are evaluated in order to choose one to perform. RED model:
outlines a number of criteria used when evaluating responses, including the perceived
efficacy and value of the response, and the perceived efficacy and value of the outcome
6. Performance of chosen response: the chosen response is enacted, requiring the individuals
to have appropriate verbal and non-verbal social skills.
Steps occur in sequence for given situation/stimulus but individuals can simultaneously perform the
different steps, allowing for feedback between processes. Circular process. At all steps processing is
influenced by social knowledge structures bases on an individual’s past experiences, such as social
schema and scripts.
220.127.116.11. Social information-processing and criminal behaviour
At the first two steps: aggressive individuals experience a range of problems in encoding and
interpreting social cues, leading to an inaccurate representation of a situation. Perceive fewer social
cures, take more notice of aggressive cues and pay more attention to cues at the end of interactions.
Rely more on internal schema when interpreting situations, with these schema tending to be
aggressive in content. Have a hostile attributional style, and so often misinterpret situations as
hostile. This tendency is exacerbated when individuals feel threatened or react impulsively. Attribute
greater blame to external factors.
At the third step: aggressive people tend to have dominance and revenge-based goals, rather than
At the fourth step: aggressive individuals generate fewer response than non-aggressive people,
suggesting they have a limited repertoire from which to draw. The content of these response is more
aggressive as compared to the prosocial responses generated by non-aggressive people.
At the fifth step: aggressive individuals also evaluate responses by different criteria, rating aggressive
response more positively than prosocial response and having more positive outcome expectancies
and perceptions of self-efficacy for aggression. Aggression is viewed as being more effective to
achieve their goals.
At the sixth step: aggressive individuals have poor social skills. If the chosen response is successful, it
will be evaluated positively and reinforced.
Social information-processing is influential in the development of juvenile delinquency and adult
offending. The more steps at which individuals exhibit problems, the greater the level of aggressive
and antisocial behaviour. There appears to be an interaction between the hostile attributional style
at step two and the response evaluation and decision process at step four. Early childhood
experiences are important in the development of such behaviours.
1.3. Theories, Evidence, and Crime
1.3.1. Interpersonal Violence
December 2014: violent crime comprised about 23% of offences reported to the police and 19% of
offences in the Crime Survey for England and Wales and level of violent crime has remained generally
stable for a number of years.
Violence: murder, manslaughter, robbery, etc.
Violent offenders tend not to be specialists, but commit a wide range of offences. Specialist violent
offenders are quite rare. Violent offenders have an early onset of offending behaviour, and show
considerable continuity of aggression and violence throughout their life.
18.104.22.168. Social factors and violence
Important role played by family structure and parenting style in development of violent offending.
Clear link between violence and severe abuse in childhood and witnessing family violence, which
appears to be mediated through the impact of abuse on children’s psychological functioning, such as
problem-solving and coping abilities.
22.214.171.124. Cognitive-behavioural theory and violence
Cognitive-behavioural approaches focus on the role of cognitive appraisal and other internal
processes in violence. Hostile attributional bias has strong relationship with aggressive behaviour
among children and adolescents and holds into adulthood. Significant association between low
empathy and violent offending. Emotional arousal can impact on cognitive processes, with anger
playing a significant role in understanding violence. Violence as result from being angry. Reciprocal
relationships between angry emotional arousal and cognitive processes (Novaco). Angry thoughts
can be triggered by situational events; these angry thoughts then increase emotional arousal; and
this arousal heightens the intensity of the angry thoughts. As this cycle continues, the level of
cognition and affect increase in turn, with an increased risk of violence.
126.96.36.199. Neuropsychological factors and violence
Evidence that violence is associated with brain damage or dysfunction. Damage and malfunctioning
of the frontal and temporal lobes most associated with violence. Frontal lobe lesions associated with
personality changes, such as: apathy, a lack of foresight or taking account of the consequences of
behavior, a tendency to continue with behaviors that are unsuccessful, irritability and grandiose and
unrealistic ideas: disinhibition. Blair (2009): links between structures in the temporal lobe – the
amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex – and violence, specifically psychopathy. Dysfunction in
these two brain structures leads to deficits in stimulus-reinforcement learning and the ability to
responds to fearful and sad expressions in others, and impaired decision-making. Possible that the
relationship between brain injury and violence is bidirectional: brain injury may be consequence of
violence, rather than antecedent. Neuropsychological factors in violence: development of violence
results from interaction of social, environmental, genetic and neurobiological factors.
188.8.131.52. Domestic violence
Part 1: The Causes of Crime
Chapter 1: Psychological Approaches to Understanding Crime
Chapter 2: Developmental and Psychological Theories of Offending
Chapter 3: Psychopathy
Chapter 5: Effects of Interpersonal Crime on Victims
Part 2: Investigating Crime
Chapter 6: Eyewitness Evidence
Chapter 7: Interviewing Witnesses
Chapter 8: Interviewing Suspects
Chapter 9: Detecting Deception
Chapter 11: Interpersonal Violence and Stalking
Chapter 12: Terrorism
Part 4: Dealing with Offenders
Chapter 17: Crime and Punishment: What Works?
Chapter 18: Risk Assessment and General Offender Behaviour Programme Delivery
Chapter 19: Treating Dangerous Offenders
Chapter 22: Interventions with Mentally Disordered Offenders
Chapter 23: The Rehabilitation of Offenders: Good Lives and Risk Reduction
Article 1: Human Aggression
Article 2: I3 Theory: Instigating, Impelling, and Inhibiting Factors in Aggression
Article 3: Firesetting, Arson, Pyromania, and the Forensic Mental Health Expert
Article 4: Een steekje los? Over de geestesgesteldheid van daders van internationale misdrijven: van Neurenberg tot Den Haag
Article 5: Het ultieme kwaad: de Daders
Article 6: We’re All Victims Here: Toward a Psychology of Revenge
Article 7: The Impact of Criminal Justice Involvement on Victims’ Mental Health
Article 8: Accommodating the Expressive function of Victim Impact Statements: the Scope for Victims’ Voices in Dutch Courtrooms
Article 9: Recovered Memories
Article 10: Rehabilitating Criminal Justice Policy and Practice
Article 11: Treating Offenders with Mental Illness: a Research Synthesis
Lecture 1 – De (re)constructie van herinneringen
Lecture 2 – Traumatisch verlies na moord: complexe rouw
Lecture 3 – Verhoor & Kwetsbaarheid
Lecture 4 – Pyromanie en brandstichting
Lecture 5 – Daders van Internationale Misdrijven en Terrorisme
Lecture 6 – Simulatie
Lecture 7 – Psychologists and the Criminal Justice System