PY4 Psychology: Controversies, Topics and Applications (1334)
Section C: APPLICATIONS - FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGY
What is forensic psychology?
Forensic psychology involves applying psychology to the field of criminal investigation
and the law. The popularity of forensic psychology has grown phenomenally in recent
years, partly due to sensationalized portrayals of the field in movies and television, which
are not always accurate. Forensic psychologists are often depicted as criminal profilers
who are able to almost psychically deduce a killer's next move. In reality, these
professionals practice psychology as a science within the criminal justice system and civil
What do forensic psychologists do?
A forensic psychology offers expertise across a wide range of issues related to the
criminal justice system. These might include evaluating offender treatment programmes,
risk assessment in deciding whether a criminal should be released on parole, providing
expert testimony in relation to criminal cases or child custody decisions, advising police
on identifying stress and burnout in their officers, or best how to negotiate with hostage
Forensic psychologists must rely on substantial academic research if they are to provide
worthwhile advice within the context of criminal or civil justice. This is why anyone
seeking chartered status within the British Psychological Society as a forensic
psychologist needs to demonstrate academic and research competence in forensic
psychology, together with a period of approved supervised practice in the field. By taking
this course, you are taking the first step in exploring and studying the work of a forensic
FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGY – TOPICS FOR THE PY4 EXAMINATION
1. Approaches to profiling (e.g. the US 'Top down' approach, the British 'Bottom-up'
approach and geographical profiling).
2. Decision-making of juries (e.g. minority influence, majority influence and
characteristics of the defendant).
3. Theories of crime including biological and social/psychological influences.
4. Factors affecting the accuracy of eyewitness testimony (e.g. reconstructive
memory, face recognition, attributional biases, the role of emotion).
5. Treatment and punishment of crime (e.g. cognitive therapies, behavioural
therapies and zero tolerance).
1. APPROACHES TO PROFILING
Back to the future - The New York Bomber
In November 1940 a bomb was left at the business premises of the energy utility
Consolidated Edison in New York City. The pipe bomb did not detonate (arguably by
design) as when it was discovered it was found to be wrapped in a note stating ‘CON
EDISON CROOKS, THIS IS FOR YOU’. A year later a very similar device was
discovered. The bomb investigation team concluded that it had been constructed by the
same person. The location of the device indicated that the bomber was probably en route
to the Consolidated Edison building once again but for some reason he had to abandon
his plan and the device was just left on the street. Up to this point neither incident had
been reported in the press.
Three months later as US involvement in the Second
World War began the bomber sent a type set letter to the
police. In case you can’t make it out, it read. ‘I will
make no more bomb units for the duration of the war –
my patriotic feelings have made me decide this – later I
will bring the Con Edison to justice – they will pay for
their dastardly deeds.’
In fact he didn’t make another bomb for nine years.
It was March 1950 when a third unexploded bomb was
discovered and it was felt that it was never intended to
go off. This was merely the calm before the storm, a
fourth bomb exploded at the New York Public Library
followed by another shortly afterwards at Grand Central
station. In the next six years over 30 bombs would be
planted, the vast majority of which detonated.
Public and political pressure on the police force to apprehend the bomber intensified the
longer he remained at large. As a result of this pressure Dr James A. Brussel was asked to
generate a profile of the bomber in the hope that it would help focus the investigation.
The Criminal profile provided by Dr. Brussel
Male, former employee of Consolidated Edison, injured while working there so seeking
revenge, paranoid, 50 years old, neat and meticulous persona, foreign background, some
formal education, unmarried, living with female relatives but not mother who probably
died when he was young, upon capture he will be wearing a buttoned up double breasted
Criminal profiling based recommendations:
Brussel suggested that the police publicise their investigation along with the profile
description of the bomber. In Brussel’s opinion the bomber wanted credit for his work
and this arrogance was likely to be his downfall as he may well be tempted to reveal
details that would lead the police to his door.
Every major newspaper in New York gave details of the profile and although this resulted
in a number of false leads the real bomber phoned Brussel warning him against any
further involvement. At the same time administrative staff at Consolidated Edison had
been instructed to search their employee files for anyone who appeared to match the
A member of staff came across the file of George Metesky. Metesky had an accident at
work and had filed an unsuccessful disability claim against the company. In response to
the failed disability claim Metesky wrote a series of letters to the company, one of which
referred to their ‘dastardly deeds’.
George Metesky was arrested shortly afterwards and immediately confessed. As he was
being escorted to the police station it didn’t go unnoticed that he was wearing a buttoned
up double breasted jacket!
What is criminal profiling?
Criminal profiling consists of analyzing a crime scene and using the information to
determine the identity of the perpetrator. While this doesn't directly give you the
perpetrator's name, it is very helpful in narrowing down suspects. For example, a profile
based on a crime scene provides information that may include the perpetrator's
personality, sex, age, ethnic background, and possible physical features such as
disfigurements or height and weight. This information can then be used to identify
possible suspects, depending on who fits the profile. Personality is one of the most
important parts of a criminal profile. Behavior reflects personality. And that is what
profiling is all about.
Creating a criminal profile – bottom-up (UK) and top-down (USA)
The phrase top-down refers to an approach which starts with the big picture and then fills
in the details. The top-down approach is the preferred method of profiling in the United
States. This contrasts with the bottom-up approach which starts with details and creates
the big picture. Both of these approaches have been used to build up profiles to aid police
in solving crimes and apprehending criminals. Both have strengths and weaknesses. In
reality it will depend on the situation and type of crime as to which approach is used.
TOP-DOWN TOPOLOGY - The American Way
The FBI's Crime Scene Analysis consists of six steps, which are summarized
1. Profiling Inputs: this is basically a collection of all evidence, including
anything found on the scene (i.e. fibers, paint chips, etc.) and anything
derived from the crime scene (for example, photographs, investigator
notes, measurements, etc.).
2. Decision Process Models: in this second step, evidence is arranged to
locate any types of patterns, such as whether or not the crime is part of a
series of crimes, what the victims have in common, etc.
3. Crime Assessment: now that the evidence has been organized, the crime
scene is reconstructed. Investigators use patterns to determine what
happened in what order, and what role each victim, weapon, etc. had in
4. Criminal Profile: the combined first three steps are used to create a
criminal profile incorporating the motives, physical qualities, and
personality of the perpetrator. Also, the investigators use this information
to decide on the best way to interview the suspects based on their
5. The Investigation: the profile is given to investigators on the case and to
organizations that may have data leading to the identification of a suspect.
The profile may be reassessed if no leads are found or if new information
6. The Apprehension: unfortunately, this stage only occurs in about 50% of
cases. When a suspect is identified, he/she is interviewed, investigated,
compared to the profile, etc. If the investigators have reason to believe
that the suspect is the perpetrator, a warrant is obtained for the arrest of
the individual, usually followed by a trial with expert witnesses including
the forensic psychologist and other forensic experts, including those
involved in the crime scene analysis.
The Typical ‘Lust Murderer’ - a useful example of the top-down
Could you recognise someone who could commit a murder out of sheer sexual lust if
he/she was sitting next to you? Probably not. At least not until you’d studied the work of
Hazelwood and Douglas.
In 1980 Hazelwood and Douglas published their account of the ‘lust murderer’. They
advanced a theory that lust murderers are mainly categorized by two types: - Organised
and disorganised. This is an example of a top-down typology.
An organised offender leads an ordered life and kills after some sort of critical life
event. Their actions are premeditated and planned, they are likely to bring weapons and
restraints to the scene. They are likely to be of average to high intelligence and
A disorganised offender is more likely to have committed the crime in a moment of
passion. There will be no evidence of premeditation and they are more likely to leave
evidence such as blood, semen, murder weapon etc. behind. This type of offender is
thought to be less socially competent and more likely to be unemployed.
An investigation into the organised/disorganised offender theory
In 2004, Professor David Canter conducted an investigation of the organised/disorganised
theory of serial murder. Professor Canter is the UK’s foremost profiling expert, his
bottom-up approach looks for consistencies in offenders’ behaviour during the crime. No
initial assumptions are made about the offender and the approach relies heavily on
computer databases. It can be the little details that are often overlooked that can be
crucial to the success of a case.
Incidentally if you wish to study forensic psychology with Professor Canter – who coined
the term Investigative Psychology – you will need to study at the University of Liverpool
where he is a Professor of Psychology.
Canter is particularly interested in serious sexual offences and in 1990, together with
Detective Constable Rupert Heritage, he presented a study of the characteristics of sex
Canter & Heritage (1990) Developments in offender profiling.
Aim: - To identify a behaviour pattern from similarities between offences.
Methodology: - A content analysis was carried out on 66 sexual offences from various
police forces committed by 27 offenders. The data was subjected to Canter’s smallest
space analysis (a computer programme devised by Canter)
Results: - Five variables were found to be central to the 66 cases: -
• Vaginal Intercourse
• No reaction to the victim
• Impersonal Language
• Surprise Attack
• Victim’s clothing disturbed.
This suggests a pattern of behaviour where the attack is impersonal and sudden and the
victim’s response is irrelevant to the offender.
Conclusions: - This has become known as the five factor theory. These five aspects have
now been shown to contribute to all sexual offences, but in different patterns for different
individuals. An analysis of these factors can enable Police to decide if an offence has
been committed by the same individual.
Case Study - Professor Canter’s Most Famous Case
John Duffy - The Railway Rapist.
Between 1975 and 1986 23 women, aged between 15
and 32, were raped at railway stations in and around
London. Canter became interested in the case after
reading reports in the Evening Standard. In the early
1980s two police officers were appointed to help him
draw up an offender profile. It was already known that
an accomplice was involved in the crimes. Canter
placed all the cases on a map and this allowed him to
speculate about where the rapist might live. He
categorised perpetrators as ‘marauders’ or ‘commuters’.
Depending on whether they strike from within their
home base or travel away from home ‘commuters’.
Prelimary profile provided by Professor Carter
• Has lived in the areas circumscribed by the first three cases since 1983
• Probably lived in that area at the time of the arrest
• Probably lives with a wife or girlfriend, possibly with no children.
• Mid to late twenties
• Light hair
• About 5 feet 9 inches
• Probably semi-skilled or skilled involving weekend work or casual labour from
July 1984 onwards
• His job most likely does not bring him into contact with the public
• Keeps himself to himself, but has one or two close men friends and probably very
little contact with women, especially in the work situation.
• Has knowledge of the railway system, along which the attacks happen.
• The variety of his sexual actions suggests considerable sexual experience.
• Was probably arrested some time between 24 October 1982 and January 1984 and
this may have had nothing to do with rape, but having been aggressive under the
influence of drugs or alcohol.
In November 2000 John Duffy who was serving life for the rape and murder of several
women, confessed that he was responsible for many more and that he committed some
with an accomplice David Mulcahy. He was the Railway rapist. John Duffy had been
interviewed by the police for an unrelated offence, a ‘domestic’ against his ex-wife. He
was one of 2000 suspects connected to the crime by their blood groups. He lived in
Kilburn North London, had worked on the railways as a carpenter and was the right age.
The profile did fit on these criteria.
However, Duffy was a lot shorter than victims remembered and many had described him
as having black or even ginger hair. But police, suggest that the ‘weapons effect’ may
have played apart as he threatened victims with a knife.
Evaluation - Profiles can be useful, but police must be careful not to be blinded to other
possibilities by them. Occasionally criminals do not fit the profile. Over use could lead
to miscarriages of justice.
As any police officer who has ever walked a beat or worked a crime scene
knows, the street has its hot spots, patterns, and rhythms: drug dealers work
their markets, prostitutes stroll their favorite corners, and burglars hit their
favorite neighborhoods. But putting all the geographic information together in
cases of serial violent crime (murder, rape, arson, bombing, and robbery) is
highly challenging. This is where geographic profiling can be of great assistance.
The name most closely associated with geographical profiling
is Kim Rossmo who began studying geographical profiling as
part of his PhD studies at Simon Fraser University (British
Columbia, Canada). He studied under professors Paul and
Patricia Brentingham who developed a theoretical crime model
which examined where crimes were most likely to happen,
based on offender residence, workplace and leisure activity.
Put simply, the Brentingham model of geographic profiling
maintains that we all have an 'activity space' related to the areas
in which we live, work and play and that this activity space
produces a discernible pattern of movement around the city.
In relation to criminal activity, therefore, it follows that an offender has to know about a
particular geographical area before he or she begins selecting crimes to commit; and
where the offender’s movement patterns intersect within this geographical area, will to a
large extent determine where the crime takes place. Rossomo extended the work of
Brentingham to ask the question: What does the location of a crime say about where the
offender might live?
How Does Geographical Profiling Work?
Geographic profiling works on the premise that the location of a crime site can provide
the police with vital information. It assesses and predicts the offender’s most likely place
of residence, place of work, social venues and travel routes etc.
Geographic profiling consists of both quantitative (objective) scientific geographic
techniques and qualitative(subjective) components e.g. a reconstruction and interpretation
of the offender’s mental map.’
The primary geographic technique is a
computerized system known as Criminal
Geographic Targeting (CGT). Put simply, spatial
data i.e. data relating to time, distance and
movement to and from the crime scenes is
analyzed to produce a three-dimensional model
known as a jeopardy surface. The jeopardy
surface contains height and color probability
codes which when superimposed onto a map of
the area in which the serial crimes have been
committed give an indication of the likelihood of
offender residence or place of work.
Although the science underpinning geographic profiling can be difficult to comprehend,
it’s easy to see how this approach can offer practical assistance in the course of a criminal
As Rossmo points out: ‘By establishing the probability of the offender residing in various
areas and displaying those results on a map, police efforts to apprehend criminals can be
assisted. This information allows police departments to focus their investigative efforts,
geographically prioritise suspects, and concentrate patrol efforts in those zones where
the criminal predator is likely to be active’.
Who commit crime. And who do not.
1. Crime is committed disproportionately by males – by 15-25 year olds – by unmarried
people – by people living in large cities.
2. Young people who have friendships with criminals are more likely to engage in crime
themselves. Young people who do poorly at school are more likely to engage in
3. For both men and women, being at the bottom of the class structure increases rates of
offending for all types of crime part from those for which opportunities are
systematically less available to the poor.
4. Young people who are strongly attached to their parents, and/or their school are less
likely to commit crime.
5. Young people who have high educational and occupational aspirations are less likely
to engage in crime.
John Braithwaite, criminologist, 1989
2. DECISION-MAKING OF JURIES
Imagine you have been selected as a juror for a murder trial – if you’re 18 years old you
can be. You’ve listened to the evidence presented by the prosecution and by the defence.
You have heard testimony from a variety of witnesses, including the accused. The judge
has summed up the evidence and instructed you on various points of law. You have
retired to the jury room. You have chosen a jury foreman to chair your discussions. You
look around you and see eleven strangers. Like you, they have been randomly selected
from the electoral register. Like you, they must make a momentous decision – the guilty
or innocence of the accused.
You would like to think you will simply weigh up the evidence and come to a reasonable,
rational, objective decision. But it is not going to be as simple as that. There are lots of
influences in the jury room, some you will be conscious of, and some you will not be
conscious of. We will now take a close look at some of these influences including how
the majority can influence the minority, how the minority can influence the majority, and
even the characteristics of the defendant., the accused.
The Characteristics of the Defendant - the Halo Effect
I can hear you, the juror, protest, “I am not going to be influenced by the appearance of
the defendant. I will reach my verdict solely on the basis of the evidence.” But research
shows you will find it difficult not to be influenced by the characteristics of the
defendant, particularly if you find the defendant attractive.
Physically attractive people are assumed to have other attractive properties. This is
known as the Halo Effect. Efran (1974) found good-looking criminals received lighter
sentences or penalties unless their looks were involved in the crime e.g. toy boys conning
rich old ladies. This is why a defendant is advised to turn up smartly dressed, clean and
tidy for their day in court, appearances do matter.
Castellow et al (1990) – The effects of physical attractiveness on jury verdicts.
Aims: - To test the hypothesis that an attractive defendant is less likely to be seen as
guilty, that the more attractive the victim is the more likely the defendant is to be seen as
guilty and lastly to look for gender differences in these effects.
Procedure: - 71 male and 74 female students from East Carolina University participated
in the study. It was a laboratory study with an independent measures design (attractive or
unattractive). All participants were asked to read a sexual harassment case, attached were
pictures of the defendant and the victim, these were either attractive or unattractive
(attractive defendant, unattractive victim and vice versa). The dependent variable was
their answer to the question “Do you think Mr. Radford is guilty of sexual harassment?”
They were also asked to rate both defendant and victim on 11 bipolar personality scales
such as dull-exciting, nervous-calm etc.
Results: - Attractive defendants were found guilty 56% of the time,
unattractive defendants 76% of the time.
When the victim was attractive the guilty verdict was 77% - Unattractive victim 55%.
Attractive defendants and victims were also rated positively on personality variables.
There was no significant gender difference.
Conclusion: - Looks do matter!!!!!
The Characteristics of the Witnesses - Confidence convinces
We have considered how attractive defendants are less likely be seen as guilty by a jury,
but are there any characteristics of the witnesses that can influence jurors? Yes, there is
one above all. And that characteristic is confidence. The more confident a witness
appears, the more likely the jury is to believe their evidence.
Giving evidence in Court is a nerve-racking experience and it would be completely
understandable for witnesses to appear nervous and hesitate when answering questions.
However, jurors may perceive this nervousness as evidence of being unsure or even
worse lying. When a witness appears confident, jury’s tend to have more confidence in
what they hear.
Penrod & Cutler (1995) – The effects of witness confidence on jurors’ assessment of
Aim: to examine several factors, including confidence, that jurors might consider
when evaluating eyewitness identification evidence.
The study involved showing a videotaped mock trial of a robbery
to participants, who included undergraduate students and
experienced jurors. There were 10 independent variables which
were manipulated, but we will focus on just one – witness
confidence. Eyewitness identification was key to the trial; the
witness testified that she was either 80 or 100% confident that
she had identified the robber.
Witness Confidence about ID % Conviction
100% Confident 67
80% Confident 60
The more confident the witness was, the more likely the jury were to believe them.
Every Jury Loves an Eyewitness
From the research by Loftus et al we know that eye witness testimony is notoriously
unreliable. Psychologists such as Loftus are often called as expert witnesses for the
defence to warn jurors of the possible problems with eye witness testimony. However,
research has shown that jurors tend to disregard these warning and still believe eye
Though mistaken identity is difficult to estimate, it has been suggested that false
convictions based on mistaken identity may be as high as 5 per cent in the United States.
In the United Kingdom, the Devlin Committee (1976) analysed over 2000 identification
parades held in England and Wales in 1973 and discovered that in 350 cases eye-witness
identification was the only evidence of guilt and in 74 per cent of these cases result in
However, there is good news on the eyewitness testimony front. Research has shown that
jury’s can be more cautious about accepting eyewitness testimony if the problems are
explained to them by an expert witness. Cutler et al. (1989) investigated the effect of the
expert witness on jury perception of eyewitness testimony. Cutler investigated whether
hearing about psychological research from an expert witness that cast doubt on the
accuracy of eye witness testimony would affect a juror’s decision-making by making
them more sceptical.
Cutler concluded that expert testimony improved jurors’ knowledge and made them pay
more attention to WIC (witness identifying conditions). With expert testimony, juror
sensitivity to problems with evidence is improved and may help to prevent miscarriages
INFLUENCING THE JUROR - Majority and Minority Influence
Conforming to majority opinion
You, the juror, are sitting in the jury room. The first vote is taken by secret ballot. There
are 11 votes for ‘guilty’ and 1 vote for ‘not guilty’. The ‘not guilty’ vote is yours. There
is no doubt that you will feel tremendous pressure to change your vote. After all, there is
a majority of 11 to 1 against you. Are you going to stick to your minority opinion or go
along with majority? In other words, are young going to conform to majority opinion?
Decades of research show people tend to go along with the majority view, even if that
view is objectively incorrect. Now, scientists are supporting those theories with brain
images. A new study shows when people hold an opinion differing from others in a
group, their brains produce an error signal. A zone of the brain popularly called the "oops
area" becomes extra active, while the "reward area" slows down, making us think we are
Klucharev (2008) asked participants, all female, to rate 222 faces based on physical
beauty on a scale from 1 to 8. Afterwards, researchers told each participant either that the
average score was higher or that it was lower than her rating. Some participants were told
the average rating was equal to her rating. The researchers then chatted with the
participant before suddenly asking the participant to do the rating again. Most subjects
changed their opinion toward the average.
Kulcharev (2008) concluded “deviation from the group opinion is regarded by the brain
as a punishment.” He suggests our brains are finely tuned to what other people think
about us. This puts pressure on individuals to align their judgements to fit in with the
group. One reason behind conformity is that, in terms of human evolution, going against
the group is not beneficial to survival. There is a tremendous survival advantage to being
in a community, he said.
Conformity can be defined as the ‘change in a person’s behaviour or opinions as a result
of real or imagined pressure from a person or a group of people’. In other words, ‘the
essence of conformity is yielding to group pressures’, in whatever way and for whatever
motives. Group pressure is a common factor in most explanations of conformity.
Conformity is an important process for psychologists to understand as it is thought to
have a significant impact on many of our behaviours and the decisions we make in many
situations, such as how juries make decisions.
This is not to suggest that most jurors will simply give in to the pressure of majority
opinion in the jury room. But it is to recognise that such social pressure to conform does
exist, as was demonstrated by Solomon Asch in 1955.
Asch (1955) aimed to investigate the effects of group pressure on individuals in
unambiguous situation. By this we mean that Asch wanted to find out if individuals,
under group pressure, would give an obviously incorrect answer, conforming with the
majority, or whether they would give an independent response.
Groups of seven to nine male students were
instructed to compare the lengths of lines
and say which line in a group of three
matched a fourth standard line. The naïve
participant, unaware of the nature of the
experiment, was seated last or second last in
the group. This compelled him to call out his
answer after hearing a clearly wrong answer
called out by other members of the group on
12 of the 18 trials.
The crucial measure was how often naïve participants gave the same wrong answer as the
confederates on the critical trials. This was a measure of conformity. Overall, there was
a 32% conformity rate. In other words, participants agreed with the wrong answer on
about a third of the critical trials.
But there were important individual differences. For example, no one conformed on all
the critical trials, and about 25% didn’t conform even once. About 75% conformed at
least once. Participants appeared to be experiencing a lot of stress through the experiment
(e.g. nervous laughter, fidgeting)
Because the answers on the critical trials were obviously incorrect, Asch’s study shows
the impact that a majority can have on an individual. It shows a surprisingly strong
tendency to conform to group pressure. However, the majority does not have the same
impact on every individual.
For Asch the important finding was that there was any conformity at all. However, Asch
also saw the fact that on two thirds of the trials his participants had remained independent
as clear evidence of how people could resist the pressure to conform.
Minority Influence - resisting majority opinion
Of course it is quite rare for a juror to be in a minority of 1 to 11. But there are many
occasions when a group of jurors will find themselves in the minority concerning the
guilt of innocence of the defendant. Under these circumstances, what influence can the
minority have on the majority?
The majority does not always get its own way. Considerable research, including
Moscovici et al. (1969), has investigated the conditions under which minority influence
will prevail. Minority influence occurs when a minority of members in a group “rejects
the established norm of the majority of group members and induces the majority to move
to the position of the minority.” (Turner, 1991). For example, if there is a jury split of 8-
4, but the 4 in the minority eventually get the majority to agree with their verdict, then
minority influence has prevailed.
a) The majority will sometimes yield (give way) to the minority IF the minority can
show that there is an alternative, coherent point of view. For example, if two
Sixth Formers were able to show that Scotland was an attractive alternative to
Spain for an end-of-year holiday, the Sixth Form majority might yield and agree
to go to Scotland.
b) The majority may also yield if the minority demonstrates certainty, consistency
and confidence in their point of view. The minority mustn’t waver from their
point of view. In this case, the majority may be impressed by the commitment of
the minority and accept their proposal. Therefore, the Sixth Formers must keep on
repeating consistently that Scotland is a better alternative than Spain.
c) The minority must try to shake the confidence of the majority and produce
doubt and uncertainty into their thinking.
d) The minority must suggest, hint at and imply that harmony within the group
will be restored as soon as the majority yields and shifts towards the minority
point of view. The ‘anything for an easy life’ strategy.
When we compare
majority and minority
suggests that the majority
tends to maintain the
status quo, keeping things
the way they are, while
the minority tends to
bring about change and
We have also seen how a
number of individuals
resist influence, either
majority or minority, and
remain independent or
evidenced that there are
various kinds of social
personality traits and the
situation in which an
individual finds himself.
Reaching a Verdict
Stages in Decision Making
At the end of a trial the jury return to the courtroom to give their verdict. How do they
reach that verdict? The problem for researchers is that juries are swore to secrecy about
their deliberations, which take place behind closed doors, even after the trial, they are
prohibited by law from discussing it. This means that researchers have to rely on mock
trials and reconstructions to investigate jury behaviour. Some of the influences include
size of the jury, cognitive processes, pre-trial publicity, ethnicity, gender, individual
differences, leadership and the social processes which influence decision making such as
majority and minority influence.
Hastie et al (1983) argues that jury discussions go through the following stages.
Orientation Period • Relaxed & open discussion
• Set the agenda
• Raise questions and explore facts
• Different opinions arise
Open Confrontation • Fierce debate
• Focus on detail
• Explore different interpretations
• Pressure on the minority to conform
• Support for the group decision is established
Reconciliation • Attempts to smooth over conflicts
• Tension released through humour
TWELVE ANGRY MEN - One to watch
In the film, all but one member of a jury
initially believe that a defendant in a
murder trial is guilty. Slowly the one
juror (played by Henry Fonda) changes
the minds of the others because of his
consistent and unwavering conviction
about the man’s innocence.
3. THEORIES OF CRIME
The murder of Rhys Jones
Sean Mercer, who lived at Good Shepherd Close,
Croxteth, was 16 years old when he shot Rhys outside
the Fir Tree pub in August 2007 as the schoolboy
walked back to his home from football practice.
Mercer was a member of a gang called the Croxteth
Crew in Liverpool. When he fired the bullets that
killed Rhys he was trying to shoot people who were
in a different gang to him, the Norris Green Gang.
In trying to understand Mercer’s criminality what
factors do we need to consider?
It is never easy or straightforward to explain why
people turn to crime. We must be careful to avoid
reductionist (reducing the complex to a single explanation) or deterministic (criminal
behaviour is outside the control of the individual) arguments. Upbringing, biology and
cognition (thought processes) can all help explain criminality; however the real reasons
are far more complex. All these are factors that affect the chances of turning to crime;
none by itself is a causal factors. It is the interaction between these factors and individual
differences between people that influences whether or not people turn to crime. It must
be remembered that everyone has free will; we choose whether or not to break the law.
SOCIAL THEORIES OF CRIME
One of the most important explanations of crime is social learning theory. SLT suggests
that children learn to behave in anti-social and eventually criminal ways because they
have learned to behave in these ways. And this learning is seen as a failure of the
socialization process. Primary socialization takes place in the home during the child’s
earliest years. The process is continued in the form of secondary socialization which
takes place in the world beyond the home, e.g. in school.
According to SLT, children usually learn socially acceptable behaviour because such
behaviour is rewarded and they learn that unacceptable behaviour can be punished. This
learning prevents them from behaving in socially unacceptable ways as they grow up.
Trasler (1978) suggests that poor or bad parenting can produce inadequately socialized
children who then go on to offend. This is particularly true if these children also associate
with other children and families who also engage in socially unacceptable behaviour.
As early as 1939, Sutherland suggested that individuals learn criminal behaviour by
becoming part of close groups for whom offending has become a social norm. Not only
are criminal habits and skills acquired, but also attitudes and beliefs that support the
offending behaviour, together with a feeling of group identity and belonging.
Sutherland’s represented a very definite belief away from the view of criminals as
predisposed to a life of crime. In other words, Sutherland suggested there was no such
thing as ‘born criminals’; individuals learned their criminal behaviour by interacting with
the world around them.
Many of Sutherland’s suggestions have been confirmed by the work of Albert Bandura
(1977). Bandura demonstrated how people, particularly children, learn not only directly
by rewards and punishments, but indirectly by observing the world around them and
imitating adults who were rewarded for anti-social behaviour. For example, if young
David regularly observed his father to get what he wanted, David was likely to imitate
this behaviour if it also brought him rewards.
One aspect of social learning theory which has been developed as a possible explanation
for violent behaviour is exposure to violence on television, films, video and computer
games. It is suggested that individuals not only imitate such behaviour but that they
become desensitized to violence; in other words, they see so much violence on screen
that they begin to accept such behaviour as normal. Thousands of articles have been
written about the possibility of virtual violence encouraging real violence and aggression,
but it has not been possible to demonstrate conclusively that one causes the other, nor has
there been an explanation why some individuals copy screen violence while the vast
majority do not.
Upbringing - Is it true that crime runs in families?
Many would argue that the biggest influence on criminality is the family. If your family
are criminals it is likely that you will also be a criminal. However, this is obviously a
very deterministic explanation, as it ignores individual differences, some people do
manage to buck the trend and turn their lives around. Conversely, some people from law
abiding families go on to become criminals.
Farrington (2006) - The Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development
Farrington conducted a longitudinal study of 411 boys who were aged 8 and 9 years old
in 1953/54. The boys were taken from the registers of six state schools in East London.
They were mainly boys from white working-class families. Forty years later, when they
were interviewed for the final time, 394 were still alive and of these 365 (93%) were
Farrington aimed to investigate how these boys were influenced by life events, the
influence of their family background, whether criminal in the family was passed onto
them, and what factors had prevented them from turning to crime.
This was a huge study but here are a few of his key findings:
• 161 of the subjects had criminal records by the time they were 48.
• Those who started criminal careers youngest (10-13) were nearly all reconvicted
(91%) and committed on average 9 crimes. Those who turned to crime aged 14-16
had an average of 6 crimes. Therefore, between them the earliest offenders
accounted for 77% of all crime in the group bring studied.
• 7% of the group, who could be defined as chronic offenders, accounted for half of
all the offences. On average, their conviction careers lasted from age 14 – 35.
• Key finding: Most of the chronic offenders shared childhood characteristics: -
convicted before age 21, convicted parent, high daring, a delinquent sibling,
young mother, low popularity, disrupted family and a large family size.
• Key finding: Those who only committed crime up to the age of 20 were no
different in terms of success from those who had never been convicted of any
crime. In other words, those who abandoned crime by the age of 20 were as
successful as those who had never committed a crime.
Farrington concluded that offenders tend to be deviant in many areas of their lives. The
most important risk factors for criminality in the family are: - poverty, impulsiveness,
poor child-rearing and poor school performance. Hence, early intervention programmes
for the under 10s could have significant impact in reducing offending.
Poverty & Disadvantaged Neighbourhoods
Socio-economic deprivation can be seen as a plausible explanation for the crime of theft.
However, we still need to consider individual differences. Most poor people choose not
to steal. Disadvantaged neighbourhoods are associated with gangs - however this links
more clearly to the influence of peers on criminality.
PSYCHOLOGICAL THEORIES OF CRIME
Cognition - Do criminals think differently from other people?
We can assume that criminals do actually think. And since they do, they must be able to
rationalise their own behaviour and decide the risks involved are worth the possible
gains. But do criminals think in a fundamentally different way to law-abiding citizens.
The big problem here is - how do we ever really know how and what another person is
Yochelson & Samenow (1976) – A study of thinking patterns in criminals
1. To understand the make-up of the criminal personality.
2. To establish techniques that could be used to alter the personality disorders that
3. To encourage an understanding of legal responsibility.
4. To establish techniques that can be effective in preventing criminal behaviour.
Procedure: - A longitudinal study conducted over 14 years. 255 male participants from
various backgrounds; black, white, those from the inner city, suburbs, wealthy, poor etc.,
were interviewed at various points over the years. The population was mainly those
confined to a mental hospital who had been found guilty of a crime, but pleaded insanity
and a roughly equal group of convicted prisoners, not confined to a mental institution.
Most of the participants dropped out of the study, only 30 completed the programme of
• are restless, dissatisfied and irritable
• while at school, reasonable requests from their teachers and parents are perceived
• continually set themselves apart from others
• want to live a life of excitement, at any cost
• are habitually angry
• are lacking empathy
• feel under no obligation to anyone or anything
• are poor at responsible decision-making, having pre-judged situations.
Conclusions: - 52 thinking patterns were distinguished in the criminal
personality. These were considered to be ‘errors’ in thinking. However, as
there was no control group of non-criminals we cannot be certain that these
traits are only found in criminals.
Morals are a set of norms and values, usually learnt from our parents about what is right
and wrong. Some theorists see criminal behaviour as a failure of appropriate moral
development and retarded moral reasoning.
Kohlberg (1963), who was heavily influenced by the work of Piaget, argued that moral
development is guided by cognitive needs and a wish to understand the reality of the
world. Kohlberg suggests that children engage in social interactions and then actively
construct their moral beliefs, rather than simply accepting the moral rules handed down
by others. He believed that children’s cognition developed through stages. His research
involved presenting groups of boys with moral dilemmas and then asking them questions
The aim of the study was to find evidence in support of a progression through stages of
moral development. The procedure involved 58 working and middle class boys from
Chicago aged 7, 10, 13, 16 who were given a two hour interview with 10 dilemma (like
the Heinz) to solve. Some of these boys were followed up at 3 yearly intervals.
His most famous moral dilemma is below:
Attribution is all about blame. Who or what do we blame when we do
something wrong. If we realise that we are to blame, that is known as
internal attribution, if we blame others, or outside factors, it is known as
external attribution. An offender is considered on the round to
rehabilitation when they can take full responsibility for their actions, in
other words come to an internal attribution.
Gudjohnsson & Bownes – The attribution of blame and type of crime
Kohlberg - Moral Development in Children (1963)
Heinz’s wife was suffering from terminal cancer. In an effort to save her he
went to a chemist who had developed a cure which might help her.
Unfortunately, the chemist wanted much more money for his cure than
Heinz could afford and refused to sell it for less. Even when Heinz
borrowed enough money for half the cost of the drug, the chemist still
refused to sell it to him. Having no other means of getting the drug, Heinz
broke into the chemist’s laboratory and stole it.
• Should he have broken into the laboratory? Why?
• Should the chemist insist on the inflated price for his invention?
Does he have the right?
• What should happen to Heinz?
• What if Heinz did not love his wife – does that change anything?
• What if the dying person was a stranger? Should Heinz have stolen
the drug anyway?
Kohlber found that younger boys tended to perform at stages 1 and 2, with older boys at
stages 3 and 4. This pattern was consistent across different cultures.
Stage 1 Punishment & Obedience Orientation –
Doing what is right because of fear of punishment
Stage 2 Hedonistic Orientation – Doing what is
right for personal gain, perhaps a reward
Stage 3 Interpersonal Concordance Orientation
– Doing what is right according to the majority
Stage 4 Law & Order Orientation – Doing what
is right because it is your duty and helps society.
Laws must be obeyed for the common good.
Stage 5 Social Contract or Legalistic
Orientation – Doing what is morally right even if
it is against the law because the law is too
Stage 6 Universal Ethical Principles Orientation
– Doing what is right because of our inner
conscience which has absorbed the principles of
justice, equality and sacredness of human life.
The evidence does support the idea of a stage theory, but there is a major weakness in
Kohlberg’s theory in relation to crime. Kohlberg may demonstrate that our moral
reasoning develops in stages but it does not actually explain the emergence of criminal
Many, if not most people, have flaws and lapses in their moral reasoning but that does not
mean to say they will go on to commit criminal acts.
However, it may be useful to link attribution theory to moral reasoning. For example, I
punched you in the face because you deliberately knocked my drink in a crowded bar.
Actually, you didn’t do it deliberately; it was a complete accident. But I have decided to
blame you rather than the crowded conditions in the bar.
We tend to explain our own and others’ behaviour to ourselves by the way of attributing
motives. In other words, we try to offer motives for our own behaviour and for the
behaviour of other people. For instance, the way we assign blame and responsibility tends
to be harsher in respect of others than in relation to ourselves – I failed Psychology
because you didn’t teach me well enough; not because I missed most classes and did no
Research has shown that offenders, particularly young offenders, are very quick to find a
thousand external reasons for their criminal behaviour than accept responsibility for their
own behaviour (an internal reason). And their inaccurate attributions are often linked to
low levels of moral reasoning.
BIOLOGICAL THEORIES OF CRIME
Is there any evidence that criminal behaviour
has a biological cause?
Cesare Lombroso's (1835-1909) theory of anthropological criminology
essentially stated that criminality was inherited, and that someone "born
criminal"' could be identified by physical defects, which confirmed them as a
criminal. The pictures show the characteristics that Lombroso suggested
Although, this theory now seems ridiculous and outdated, it fitted in with the
theories of the time. Remember, at around this time the concepts of Eugenics
were gaining in popularity. Hilter’s ideas of breeding a master race would have
included eliminating those with ‘weak criminal’ genes!
Most modern theories of crime place far more emphasis on environmental
Adrian Raine of the University of Southern California has conducted research using
PET scanning and found abnormalities in some parts of the brain in violent criminals. He
has found that low physiological arousal, birth complications, fearlessness and increased
body size are early markers for later aggressive behaviour.
Raine (2002) – Understanding the development of antisocial behaviour in children.
Aim: - To make a multi-factor approach to understanding antisocial and aggressive
behaviour in children.
Procedure: - A meta-analysis of a selection of articles covering neuropsychological,
neurological and brain-imaging studies as they relate to anti-social behaviour in children.
• A low resting hearty rate is a good predictor of an individual who will seek
excitement to raise their arousal level, creating a fearless temperament.
• The adolescent brain is still forming its final connections in the pre-frontal lobe
right up until the early twenties.
• Activity in the pre-frontal lobes of impulsive individuals, who are more likely to
be antisocial and aggressive, is lower
• Birth complications and poor parenting with physical abuse and malnutrition,
smoking and drinking during pregnancy all add to the risk. (This is a strength of
this research as it considers other factors, not just biology, so it is less reductionist
than other studies)
Conclusion: Raine concludes that early intervention and prevention may be an effective
way of reversing biological deficits that predispose to antisocial and aggressive
Critically discuss the strengths & weaknesses of this study.
What types of crime cannot be explained by this study?
Price (1966) suggested that males with an extra Y chromosome XYY ‘supermale’ were
predisposed towards violent crime. Individuals with XYY are above average height and
below average intelligence. It might be the latter characteristic (Low intelligence) that
accounts for their over representation in prison populations.
Christiansen (1977) looked at 3586 twin pairs in Denmark a 52% concordance rate for
criminality was found for monozygotic (identical) twins, compared to just 22% for
dizygotic (non-identical) twins. However, we must remember the effects of shared
upbringing and if crime really was genetic we would expect a 100% concordance rate for
monozygotic twins as they share 100% of their genes.
In all cultures young males appear more often in crime statistics than any other groups.
Although, females do commit crime, the figures are far lower. Most explanations of the
gender gap focus on accepted differences between males and females such as dominance,
aggression, physique and nurturance. Others point to female socialization, which tends to
be characterized by greater parental supervision, more stress on conformity and fewer
opportunities for crime.
Criminology has notoriously ignored the issue of gender even thought as Cain (1989)
points out: ‘…the most consistent and dramatic findings from Lombroso to post-modern
criminology is not that most criminals are working-class … but that most criminals are,
and always have been, men.’
Only in recent years have psychologists begun investigate whether or not being
biologically male predisposes men to commit crimes. For example, the male hormone
testosterone has been cited as a factor in male violence, as it does influence levels of
aggression. Interesting research has been carried out by Daly & Wilson (2001) who
noticed that young male offenders had a ‘short term horizon’. This means that these
individuals want instant gratification. They have a short lifespan expectation due to the
risky behaviour that they engage in. Evolutionary theories suggest that the male role of
hunter and protector predisposes them to more risky behaviour than females.
Daly & Wilson (2001) investigated if homicide rates would vary as a function of local
life expectancy in Chicago. In other words, they aimed to investigate if more murders
took place in an area where men had lower levels of life expectancy. Their results did in
fact show a strong correlation (-0.88) between the homicide rates and life expectancy
amongst young males. They also discovered that school absenteeism was also negatively
correlated with life expectancy, which should act as a warning to school bunkers!
Daly & Wilson concluded that young men from disadvantaged neighbourhoods expected
to live shorter lives and were therefore more likely to engage in risky behaviour.
However, these findings could be explained by social factors such as poverty and
inequality rather than life expectancy.
Biological theories of crime are reductionist and determinist. These theories can only
really explain certain types of crime, mainly violent ones. There is a danger of labelling
individuals before a crime has actually been committed. However, they are attractive and
persuasive because they offer the possibilities of screening for criminality, intervention
programmes and treatment. In reality, it is the interaction between upbringing,
environment, cognitive processes, and biology and individual differences between people
that influences whether or not they turn to crime. It must be remembered that everyone
has free will; we choose whether or not to break the law.
4. FACTORS AFFECTING THE ACCURACY OF EYE-WITNESS
One of the most important applications of psychological research since the
1970s has been in the understanding and assistance psychologists have
provided in the area of the reliability of eye-witness testimony. It is vital to be
able to judge whether eye-witness testimony is reliable. Though mistaken
identity is difficult to estimate, it has been suggested that false convictions
based on mistaken identity may be as high as 5 per cent in the United States. In
the United Kingdom, the Devlin Committee (1976) analysed over 2000
identification parades held in England and Wales in 1973 and discovered that in
350 cases eye-witness identification was the only evidence of guilt and in 74 per
cent of these cases result in conviction.
HOW DOES AGE AFFECT MEMORY?
Much of the research on how age affects the accuracy of eyewitness testimony has
centred on the differences between recall by adults and recall by children. In general,
research shows that adults provide more information about an event than children but that
children can show similar levels of accuracy about topics of particular interest to them
(King and Yuille, 1987). However, King and Yuille (1987) also reported that peripheral
details, such was what kind of shoes the suspect was wearing, were as important to
children as the central details of the scene. This might be explained by an adult’s ability
to focus on what would be considered as the most salient, conspicuous detail in the scene
Davies et al. (1989) reviewed the literature discussing children used as witnesses and
came to some interesting conclusions. Children between the ages of 6 and 7, and 10 and
11, are fairly accurate in their memories of an event, they do not usually ‘make things
up’, and they do not deliberately lie when giving testimony. In addition, their memory for
important details is not significantly altered by adult suggestion after the event.
However, there is evidence from several studies conducted with children between the
ages of 6 and 11 years that the type of information being recalled is critical. It has been
consistently shown that descriptions about persons are less accurately reported as
compared to details about actions. In other words, children can recall what happened
more accurately than the persons involved in the event.
It seems then that children and adults are roughly similar in their recall of events
witnessed, or at least these differences should not be overstated.
Research suggests that recall from older people is not as detailed as that of young or
middle-aged adults. Karpel et al. (2001) investigated the reliability of eyewitness
testimony in older people. Young adults (17 - 25) and older adults (65 - 85) were shown a
video of a robbery. They were then asked to recall what they'd seen. This information
was then compared. The information given by the young adults was more accurate and
they were less vulnerable to leading questions. We might question the ecological validity
of this study because a video was used; in addition, the participants may have guessed the
aim of the experiment and therefore made a special effort to remember what happened –
demand characteristics. However, decline in memory is not inevitable with age,
particularly where elderly persons continue to use their minds very actively.
HOW DOES EMOTION AFFECT MEMORY?
Most crimes involve intense emotions of fear and anger so witnesses’ recall of such
incidents are inevitably affected by such feelings. However, there is disagreement about
the effect of emotion on memory. One the one hand there is the belief that experiencing a
highly emotional event produces what Brown and Kulik (1977) describe as ‘flashbulb
memories’ or an exact trace, such as where we were when we heard the news of a
famous person’s death. On the other hand is the belief that highly emotional events can
be repressed because they can be damaging. It is this belief that lies at the heart of the
recovered memory debate – the memories of child abuse can be released through
therapy many years after the event. Consider for example an incident where a boy is
badly mugged in the street; the incident has been witnessed by his terrified girlfriend; is
she likely to have a flashbulb memory of the incident or will she repress horrific details
of the memory?
Neither of these two extremes seems to be entirely correct. Heightened emotion does not
appear to make people forget. Indeed, experiencing stress tends to improve memory for
central details, though often at the expense of peripheral details which subsequently be
When we are in a state of anxiety, we tend to focus on whatever is making us feel
anxious or fearful, and we exclude other information about the situation. After all, if we
see a lion coming towards us, we are not going to pay much attention to those chimps
gathering fruit in the nearby trees.
In eyewitness testimony, this funnelling of attention is called ‘weapon focus’ because
when an offender holds a gun or a knife this tends to concentrate witnesses’ attention on
the weapon. However, this often means that the witnesses as a poorer or less accurate
recall of other details, such as the offender’s face.
In 1979 Elizabeth Loftus set up a fascinating experiment to see how anxiety affected the
recall of an incident. Volunteers were invited to take part in an experiment at the
psychology laboratory. As each individual arrived, he was asked to wait in a room
outside the laboratory for a few minutes. The first group of participants heard a quiet
discussion about equipment failure coming from the laboratory. Then a man emerged
from the room holding a pen in his greasy hands. This person uttered a single comment,
then walked past the participant out of the room.
The second group of participants, also asked to wait when they arrived on their own,
heard something quite different. They heard a very heated, angry argument coming from
the laboratory. Then they heard breaking glass and crashing chairs. A man emerged from
the laboratory holding a paper-knife covered in blood. This man, too, made a single
comment before leaving the room. Participants were then given 50 photographs and
asked to identify the man who had come out of the laboratory.
Participants who had witnessed the man holding the pen accurately identified the man
49% of the time. Participants who had witnessed the man carrying the bloody paper-knife
identified the man only 33% of the time.
Loftus concluded that the second group had concentrated on the ‘weapon’ – the bloody
paper-knife – and had excluded other information from what they had witnessed,
including what the man carrying the knife looked like. Their focus on the weapon had
distracted their attention from the man himself.
Human beings tend to become anxious in the presence of violence. Loftus and Burns
(1982) conducted an experiment showing how witnessing violence can reduce the
accuracy of memory. Participants were shown two filmed versions of a crime. The
second version included a violent incident. The inclusion of the violent incident impaired
the memory of the participants for details they had seen only two minutes earlier.
CAN OUR MEMORY BE MISLED?
Does the manner in which memories are retrieved affect the accuracy or the amount of
information retrieved? Does the answer received depend on the way the question is
asked? Once again, Elizabeth Loftus has done seminal work on demonstrating how our
memory of an event can be influenced by the way in which questions about the event
Research has shown that information can be added to a particular memory after the event
itself, and that this information can be recalled as part of the original memory. Of course,
this is critical in eyewitness testimony where the witness may mix the new information
with the original memory.
Research has shown that people’s memories of events can be affected by leading
questions and misleading information which direct them to give a particular
interpretation of the event. A leading question directs a person towards the response the
questioner desires; a misleading question leads a person towards a response which the
questioner knows does not fit the facts.
Elizabeth Loftus is a leading researcher in the field of eyewitness testimony.
In one study, 150 students were shown a three-minute film of a car driving in the
countryside, followed by an accident. Afterwards the students were questioned about the
film. Half were asked misleading questions such as ‘How fast was the car travelling when
it passed the barn?’ (There was no barn in the film.) A week later the group who’d been
asked the misleading questions were more likely to recall a barn in the film. This
demonstrated that misleading information after an event can be recalled later as part of
the original event.
In a second study, participants were shown a film of a car accident. Later the participants
were asked questions about the events, but different words such as ‘contacted’, ‘hit’,
‘collided’ and ‘smashed’ were used in the questions about the speed the car was going.
Participants varied their estimation of the speed depending upon the particular word used
in their question. The word ‘smashed’ elicited the highest estimates of speed.
We can conclude that misleading questions immediately after an event can influence later
recall of the event. It has also been found that delaying the misleading information has an
even stronger effect on the memory because participants are less confident about the
original event. It is clear that the way in which a question is asked can influence the recall
of an event. Misleading questions (or leading ones) can affect a person’s memory:
obviously this might be crucial in a court case.
Loftus also demonstrated that not all memories are distorted. Her study involving a red
purse being stolen from a handbag demonstrates that the memory for major facts is not
easily misled. It is the minor details of an event that are likely to be mis-remembered.
Almost all of Loftus’s conclusions are based on experiments in laboratories, usually with
students watching a short film followed by questions. Do these conclusions hold true for
real-life situations and real-life witnesses?
For example, in a Canadian study, the researchers made use of a local shooting and
robbery in Vancouver. They found that the accuracy of recall by eyewitnesses to the
shooting did not decline even after five months.
Perhaps when witnesses are deeply affected by an event, for example, a violent robbery,
their memories are most accurate. So when an event is meaningful to the witness, rather
than simply an experimental video, then eye-witness memory is at its best.
HOW GOOD AT WE AT REMEMBERING FACES?
Look at these two pictures of Margaret Thatcher and then turn the page upside down!
This is known as the Thatcher illusion. This illustrates some of the problems with facial
recognition. Being able to accurately identify a face is key to many convictions.
Recognising a familiar face is something which we are all quite good at, but unfamiliar
faces are a completely different matter.
The recognition and identification of faces is a very specific area of research in
eyewitness testimony. Goldstein and Chance (1971) tested subjects for their recall of
photos of women’s faces, snowflakes and inkblots. Participants were shown 14 photos
from each set, and tested immediately afterwards and then again 48 hours later. The
results showed that accuracy for faces was good – 71% for faces, as against 48% for
inkblots and 33% for snowflakes. Recognising and remembering faces, however, are
complex aspects of memory. For instance, most of us can easily recognise a familiar face
but if we were asked to describe that face in detail we would experience some difficulty.
Moreover, while we may often recognise a face as familiar we may not be able to
pinpoint why, or recall the person’s name.
Sinha et al (2006) found that there are eight important factors involved when witnesses
try to reconstruct a stranger’s face.
1. We can recognise familiar faces even when the resolution is low (poor quality
2. The more familiar they are the easier it is.
3. Facial features are processed holistically (all together as a single unit). This has
implications for piece by piece facial reconstructions.
4. Eyebrows and hairline are most important features.
5. Illumination changes influence recognition (the suspect may look very different in
poor light or side light).
6. Motion of the face helps recognition (We can better recognise a video than a
7. There appears to be specialised neurons for face recognition.
8. Face identity and expression may be processed by two different systems in the
Facial recognition faces the same problems as other types of memory recall:
Delay – Length between event and recall
Exposure mode – Content and cue-dependent memory of the face or snapshots of intense
emotion associated with the face.
We can also unconsciously transfer the memory of one face to another face. For
example, in Australia, a famous psychologist, Donald Thompson, was arrested for rape
when the victim remembered seeing his face on TV. The woman in question was
absolutely convinced Donald Thompson was the rapist. However, it turned out the
woman had been attacked while the TV programme was live on air, and that the woman
had unconsciously transferred his face to that of the rapist.
Media coverage of crime can play a part in this type of unconscious transference. For
instance, Ainsworth (1995) showed participants a local news story about a series of
sexual assaults which included two photos, one a photofit of the suspect and the other a
photograph of a ‘good Samaritan’ who had helped one of the victims. A week later the
participants were asked to select the suspect from a selection of six photos. One group
was shown a selection containing the photofit of the suspect, a second group was shown a
selection containing a photofit of the ‘good Samaritan’, while a third group was shown a
random selection. The first group picked the suspect on 40% of occasions, while the
second group identified the ‘good Samaritan’ as the suspect on 50% of the occasions!
Therefore, the chances of selecting the innocent person were greater than the chances of
selecting the guilty party! Clearly unconscious transfer of facial features was playing a
Labelling can also influence how people recall facial features. In one study, participants
were asked to view a photo of a male face for 30 seconds and then asked to construct a
photofit. Half of them were told that the face belonged to a brave captain of the lifeboat;
the other half were told the face was that of a mass murderer. The subsequent photofit
pictures were quite different. The face of the alleged mass murderer, as created by the
participants, was cruel, unpleasant and unintelligent; the face of the brave captain was
very much the opposite.
When witnesses experience problems recalling faces they may be presented with a
‘mugshot file’ – a collection of photos of people already known to the police. One of the
problems is that the witness may feel under pressure to make a selection even though
they do not feel particularly sure or confident. This is certainly the case with child
witnesses because children tend to want to please adults, who they believe know
everything already. For instance, if a child is being interviewed by an adult and they are
asked to pick out a photograph of someone they have met or seen, they are likely to
assume that if the grown-up has gone to the trouble of setting out a display of
photographs, the correct one will probably be there, so he/she had better pick out
someone. (Peters, 1987)
In modern criminal investigations, where it is recognised that people are not good at
accurately describing facial features, programmes such as EvoFIT are used. With
EvoFIT, witnesses look at computer-generated images, starting with random shapes and
features, and are asked to select the ones most closely resembling the subject. Each time
the witness makes a selection, a new set of increasingly detailed photographs is created,
combining the characteristics of those chosen. While these methods are now widely used,
there has been little in the way of their evaluation; nor has there been much research into
the possibility that producing such a likeness may actually interfere with the witness’s
There are also problems with the identification of a suspect who appears in an identity
parade or line-up. Witnesses are often victims who may feel motivated to make a live
choice who is closest to their memory, or even just the most likely-looking from the
Witnesses often survey the line-up as whole and then make their selection, but research
suggests that a more accurate selection will be made if the witnesses are presented with
single faces in sequence and then asked whether each face belongs to the suspect or not.
Research seems to demonstrate that eyewitness testimony, while sometimes compelling,
is not always as reliable as the police and juror believe. Witnesses are susceptible to
influences at various stages during their observation and recall of an event, and are also
vu8lonerable to post-event suggestion.
In view of this, it seems clear the eyewitness testimony should never be allowed as the
sole/only evidence supporting a conviction, although psychologists can greatly assist the
police in developing interview techniques that can improve the extent and accuracy of
witnesses’ recall. Perhaps psychologists should be allowed to appear as expert witnesses
in order to advise jurors of the dangers of too readily accepting the testimony of
5. TREATMENT AND PUNISHMENT
After the verdict of guilty
Once a guilty verdict has been announced the defendant becomes part of the penal system
and is an offender. The penal system has two aims: punishment and rehabilitation.
Effectiveness is measured by looking at recidivism rates, this means re-offending rates.
If the punishment and rehabilitation has been successful the offender should not reoffend.
The recidivism rate in the UK is approximately 64% which means that around 64% of
offenders commit further crimes and end up in prison again. In the summer of 2007 the
UK prison population reached an all time high of 81,000, despite having an official
capacity of only 78,000, leading to serious overcrowding.
In order for prison to work, prisoners must be educated and made more employable, to
ensure they are more likely to remain out of prison and instead contribute to society.
Otherwise, prisons become simply ‘universities of crime’.
Research has shown (Prison Reform Trust 2007) that many prisoners have not reached
the levels of literacy and numeracy expected of average 11 year old. Fifty per cent of all
prisoners were excluded from school, and fifty per cent do not have the basic skills
required for 96% of all jobs. These statistics make prisoners, along with their criminal
records, virtually unemployable without successful educational intervention within the
prison system. It is often the lack of employment that drives ‘ex-cons’ back into a career
of crime and prison.
Cognitive Skills Programmes
Before a criminal act can occur, it must be preceded by a criminal thought. Therefore,
changing the way offenders think can prevent re-offending. This idea is the rationale
behind cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), in other words if you change the way a
person thinks you will change the way they act.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is often used with sex offenders. The therapy focuses on
identifying sexual assault cycles, correcting distorted thinking patterns (for example,
denial and minimalisation), controlling deviant fantasies, increasing empathy for the
victim, increasing social skills, and developing skills to prevent relapsing into offence.
One of the most difficult aspects of early therapy is coping with denial. Most sex
offenders will either totally or partially denyb their offences, minimizing their role inn the
offences. The interviewer needs to use a range of strategies to confront this denial. The
most effective include using assumptive questioning where, for instance, the offender is
asked when he committed the offence rather than if he did it.
The main area that will be worked on during therapy sessions are:
• Correcting distorted thinking patterns (“when a woman says ‘no’, she really
• Controlling deviant fantasies
• Increasing victim empathy (providing offenders with the opportunity to developm
empathy and recognise the pain their victims suffer)
• Improving social competence (many sex offenders have very low levels of social
competence; they are often socially inadequate people).
Evaluating the success of treatment programmes is difficult because of (a) the under-
reporting of offences by victims and offenders, and (b) the time-scale necessary to ensure
the treatment has had a lasting effect.
Dwyer and Myers (1990) report a ten-year follow up of a particular group of sex
offenders who had volunteered to undergo a comprehensive treatment programme.
Reoffending was below 4% although two-thirds of the offenders reported urges to
When comparing treated with untreated sex offenders, Marshall et al. (1991), claim that
20-60% of untreated offenders reoffended within five years of treatment while typically
only 15% of treated offenders reoffended.
Some therapists argue that any treatment is better than no treatment because no form of
treatment makes offenders more likely to reoffend, which seems a reasonable and
sensible point of view.
Anger is a strong emotion and many prisoners have problems controlling their anger
which leads to violent behaviour. Anger needs to be controlled within a prison
environment for the safety of staff and inmates. One way of achieving this aim is
through anger management programmes. The main form of Anger management in
prisons is a programme called CALM
Ireland (2000) Investigation of whether anger management course work.
Aims: To assess whether anger management programmes work with young male
Procedure: A natural experiment compared a group of 50 prisoners who had completed
CALM and a group of 37 who were assessed as suitable, but had not actually taken the
course. The prisoners were given a cognitive behavioural interview. Prison officers
completed a Wing Behavioural Checklist (WBC) rating 29 angry behaviour with scores
of 0, 1 or 2 for the week before the interview. Prisoners also completed a self-report
questionnaire on anger management with 53 questions.
Results: Prisoners who had completed CALM rated themselves lower on the anger
questionnaire and were rated lower by the prison officers, than the control group. 92%
showed improvements on at least one measure of aggression and anger.
Conclusions: - In the short-term the treatment seemed effective, but there is no re-
This alternative treatment has been used in prisons for 5
years and is popular as it is cheap easily taught and does not
require the prisoner to be highly motivated to work. Given
that drugs are a huge problem in both prisons and society in
general, this treatment has great potential.
But does it work?
Wheatley (2007) Use of acupuncture to treat drug addiction in prisoners.
Aim: To evaluate the effectiveness of ear acupuncture.
Procedure: 350 prisoners in six high security prisons received acupuncture and the
standard care programme FOCUS; these were compared with a control group who just
received FOCUS. Two trained practitioners worked with groups of 10-15 prisoners in a
relaxed setting, needles were inserted into five acupuncture points in the ear and prisoners
relaxed for 40 minutes.
Qualitative Data: Prisoners reported better sleep, improved relaxation, better able to
cope, reduced nicotine cravings, cognitive and health improvements. Staff reported
better communication with staff and families, improved attendance at classes, calmer
atmosphere and less use of healthcare facilities.
• 70% reduction in drug related incidents in the 6 months after treatment.
• 41% reduction in serious incident reports.
• 42% reduction in positive drug tests (mandatory).
• 33% reduction in positive drug test (voluntary)
Conclusion: Wheatley believes that there is enough evidence to expand the delivery of
acupuncture throughout the prison system. He believes it works best as a complementary
therapy alongside other programmes.
We should also keep in mind the ‘placebo effect’. It has been shown that if we expect
medicine or therapy to work, it will often have a beneficial effect even though the
‘placebo’ actually has no physiological effect on us whatsoever. If the prisoners expected
that ear acupuncture would help them reduce their reduction, it might have a positive
effect regardless of whether it had a genuine physiological effect or not.
The ‘broken windows’ variant of Zero Tolerance
“A piece of property is abandoned, weeds grow up, a window is smashed. Adults stop
scolding rowdy children; the children, emboldened become more rowdy. Families move
out; unmarried adults move in. Teenagers gather in front of the corner store. The
merchant asks them to remove: they refuse. Fights occur. Litter accumulates.” Wilson
and Kelling (1982) Wilson and Kelling argue that the rise in the kind of behaviour
described above lead to urban and neighbourhood decline and decay, and this in turn
provides the ideal breeding ground for crime.
The evidence in support of the ‘broken windows’ hypothesis is mixed. The connection
between urban decline and crime is far from simple. Many other factors have to be taken
into consideration; for example, the housing market, the changes in the make-up of the
local population, the job market, local road building policies, etc. All these kinds of
changes have their different impact on the rise and fall of particular local
Nevertheless, Wilson and Kelling made the case that the police have a key role in
warding off further decliner by operating a ‘zero tolerance’ policy towards all kinds of
anti-social behaviour, however apparently trivial. Whilst Young (1997) pointed out that
‘zero tolerance’ offered only a ‘quick fix’ to complex social problems, zero tolerance
policing has become popular in many parts of the UK. The popularity of zero tolerance
policing was enhanced by the claims that it had significantly reduced crime in New York
City during the 1990s (it should be noted that 7000 more police officers were recruited in
New York to implement the policy). In the UK, zero tolerance has been extended to a
wide area of anti-social and criminal behaviour including drugs and prostitution.
It should be noted that whilst there is little criminology in support of zero tolerance
policies, they have consistently secured popular support. This does not mean that zero
tolerance will not work anywhere but as yet no one really knows where, when and how
they might be effective.
The ‘feminist’ variant of Zero Tolerance
The feminist variant/form of zero tolerance focuses on violence against women and
children and has a strong punitive stance – no violence excusable and offenders must be
severely punished. Feminist campaigns advocating zero tolerance began in Canada
following the murder of 14 female engineering students in Montreal in 1989. These
policies have been imported to the UK and state that no violence against women and
children is to be tolerated regardless of age, class, ethnicity or ability. Many would argue
that the poster and public information campaigns that have been conducted under zero
tolerance have been quite successful in raising public awareness of the problem of
violence against women and children.