Forensic Psychology

32 Hours / Access Length: 180 Days / Delivery: Online, Self-Paced

Course Overview:

Immerse yourself in the world of understanding criminals, their actions and the causes of their behavior through this online course in forensic psychology.

Students will:
  • Critical understanding of the core concepts, principles and methods used in forensic psychology
  • How to analyze crime, criminals and their victims
  • Different types of criminal behaviors that forensic psychologists engage with
  • How to develop a criminal profile of offenders

Course Outline:

Module 1:
Lesson 1: What is Forensic Psychology?

This lesson will introduce students to the world of Forensic Psychology by presenting a real-life scenario of a woman recounting her experience of rape. This case vignette will demonstrate the various roles that a Forensic Psychologist can fulfil. While the work of Forensic Psychologists is not limited to the legal system, however, a key focus area of this course will be to explore how the field of Forensic Psychology deals with all aspects of human behavior as it relates to the law.

Lesson 2: Giving birth to criminals?

This lesson dives deeper into the world of the 'criminal' by questioning our own misperceptions and automatic beliefs of what constitutes a 'criminal', what we think a 'criminal' must look and act like. These misperceptions, beliefs and attitudes of 'criminals' and 'offenders' are largely socialized and then subsequently internalized into our being by our parents and teachers when growing up. These internal misrepresentations of a 'criminal' are further entrenched and solidified in popular culture. 

Lesson 3: Investigating Mental Illness and Crime: 1

While having a mental illness does not instantly label an individual as a criminal, research does indicate that a higher proportion of individuals with a personality disorder for instance are at a higher likelihood of getting into trouble with the law than people whose personalities are not thought to be extreme or disordered. This lesson explores the relationship between personality characteristics typical of many criminals.

Lesson 4: Investigating Mental Illness and Crime: 2

Lesson 4 furthers our discussion on mental illness and crime by distinguishing personality disorders from psychosis and further questioning the validity of an individual's 'sanity' when engaging in an act of crime. Can these individuals be pardoned for their wrongdoing due to being mentally ill and therefore unfit to face a trial process?

Lesson 5: Risk factors for offending

Building on our discussion from lesson 2, this chapter aims to investigate the contribution of forensic neuroscience to the understanding of the etiology (origin) of criminal behaviors. We will examine how the brain develops and the parts of the brain that are said to constitute the social brain. By understanding the structure and function of these areas in the brain, we will then explore what effects these risk factors have on critical areas of the social brain and how specific problems in these areas may in part lead to offending.

Lesson 6: Psychological theories of crime

There are many general theories relevant to the study of crime. While it is important to appreciate that crime can be understood from a variety of perspectives, psychological theories of crime deal more with the specific aspects of crime. This lesson focuses on outlining the central tenets of psychological theories of crime, such as Eysenck's (1996) biosocial theory of crime as well as Bandura's (1968, 1973) social learning theory as it applies to the development of crime.

Lesson 7: Legal systems vary worldwide

Different jurisdictions have different legal processes and protections to ensure that justice is done. This lesson considers the implications for Forensic expertise in civil and criminal proceedings whilst also providing critique towards the role of Forensic Psychologist Experts in court.

Lesson 8: Ethical Concerns and Multicultural Issues in Forensic Psychology

As we have seen thus far, the character portrayals of Forensic Psychologists ignoring the ethical and legal constraints to solve a crime is grossly inaccurate. In this lesson, we examine the ethical rules and principles that guide the profession and discuss the clearly defined scope of practice and boundaries of professional practice.

Module 2:
Lesson 1: Victim-Offender Overlap

This lesson examines how crime victimization follows patterns. These patterns cannot be understood solely based on the psychological characteristics of the victims and can be better understood in combination with geographic proximity, knowledge of everyday activities of criminals/offenders in the area that they inhabit and visit. As we explore this interface between the perpetrator and victim more, we will move away from Victimology original focus being on victims’ characteristics that increased the likelihood of their victimization and investigate the consequence of such for the 'victim' in the aftermath of an experienced incident.

Lesson 2: Expert-Witness Testimony

In Forensic Psychology, the expert witness can undertake several different roles. In various circumstances, the expert may carry out evaluations examining the mental status of a client or complete a personal history review to explore the individual's openness, cognitive abilities, attachment patterns and general capacity for describing his/her life in a coherent, chronological way. This may include assessing individuals concerning specific court matters or formal hearings. In this chapter, we will begin by outlining who should take instruction as an expert witness, what is expected of an expert witness and how important their role is when a psychological syndrome is applicable to explain a victim’s/defendant’s behavior.

Lesson 3: Interviewing witnesses

In this lesson, we begin by reviewing some of the shortcomings and consequences of traditional investigative interviews and discuss the Cognitive Interview (CI), which was designed to interview cooperative, primarily adult, witnesses in light of these shortcomings. Conducting an investigative interview is a demanding and difficult task and so to aid in this cause, researchers have developed several best-practice interviewing techniques which we will review.

Lesson 4: Eyewitness testimony

Eyewitness evidence is one of the earliest and most widely studied topics in Forensic Psychology. Today, both police and courts rely on eyewitness evidence. In this lesson, we will focus on how memory works when it comes to remembering in the eyewitness context. We will discuss the issues of the misinformation effect, difficulties when it comes to cross-racial identification and how age can impact eyewitness testimony.

Lesson 5: Interviewing suspects

Sooner or later, most criminal investigations will result in one or several suspects being interviewed. the outcome of the suspect interview is central to any investigation. This lesson contains two parts. The first part is descriptive to discussing what police officers are told to do when interviewing suspects and what happens in reality. The latter part of the lesson is prescriptive and offers a few words on what police officers should and should not do concerning suspect interviewing and ways to establish rapport during this process.

Lesson 6: Police interrogations

Psychologists have identified many key investigative tasks where psychology is particularly relevant. One of these tasks relates to the collection and evaluation of investigative information - the information obtained by suspects through police interrogations. In this lesson, we will focus on how psychology contributes to these tasks by looking first at how the police interrogate suspects and some possible consequences of their interrogation practices.

Lesson 7: Detecting deception

How do we know whether someone is telling the truth or lying? As we have seen from lesson 6, the police will attempt to detect whether someone is telling them the truth or not during an interrogation. Psychologists have participated in the development and testing of a variety of techniques to detect deception. In this lesson, we will explore several issues associated with deception such as the three major types of false confessions and the theoretical explanations for the underlying cause of lying as well as the utility of the strategic use of questioning techniques.

Lesson 8: Body-language observation

The empirical examination of the behavioral differences between liars and truth-tellers has been carried out historically by researchers in laboratory settings. The most reliable cues to deception were found to lack strong predictive value. However, some verbal and nonverbal behavioral characteristics are credible with truth-telling or lying. In this lesson, we will attempt to identify objective verbal and nonverbal behavioral cues that may indicate lying and further debunk common misconceptions of deceptive behavior such as being able to detect a killer from a 911 call.

Module 3:
Lesson 1: Violence 1: Abuse

Physical abuse can be defined as the deliberate application of force to any part of the body that results in or may result in a non-accidental injury. With abuse most often occurring in childhood and persistent through to adulthood, in this lesson we review four categories of child/adult maltreatment being physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect/failure to provide and emotional maltreatment. We will explore what incidence and prevalence rates mean in relation to the statistics on childhood abuse and examine some of the short-term and long-term effects of physical abuse in a child's upbringing.

Lesson 2: Violence 2: Interpersonal Violence

Violence against partners in the form of intimate partner or domestic violence has a long history and is still, unfortunately still common. It can include different types of violence and in different severities. In this lesson, we will explore the various types of interpersonal violence such as physical (e.g. hitting, punching, stabbing, burning), sexual, financial (e.g. restricting access to personal funds, stealing from the victim), and emotional abuse (e.g. verbal attacks, degradation, threats about hurting family members or pets). We will further review the different types of abuse experienced and the prevalence of intimate partner violence and present theories that attempt to explain why some people engage in violence against their partners. In addition, some of the major approaches to treatment will be presented and research on their effectiveness will be reviewed. Finally, research examining the prevalence of stalking and the types of stalkers will be summarized. The most common type of stalker is someone who engages in stalking after an intimate relationship breakup.

Lesson 3: Sexual Offenders 1: Sexual assault

Sexual assault is on par with homicide in terms of how perpetrators are vilified by society. Sexual assault and its aftermath is also a major focus of forensic psychology. For example, many forensic psychologists are involved in developing theories to explain why people become sexual offenders. They research to understand the nature of sexual violence and develop procedures to assess and programs to rehabilitate sexual offenders. This lesson discusses the different forms of sexual assault, rapist typologies and possible motives for sexual assault.

Lesson 4: Sexual Offenders 2: Child Molestation

In this lesson, our focus remains on sexual offending but specifically narrows our attention to child molestation. Concerning child molesters, the most widely used typology is Groth, Hobson & Gary's (1982) typology of the fixated and regressed child molester. Groth et al. (1982) developed their typology based on research with incarcerated child molesters. in addition to this, an exploration into the cognitive distortions commonly characteristic of sexual offenders will be discussed in tandem with child molester typologies.

Lesson 5: Cyber-Bullying

Cyberbullying forms part of a broader discussion on child victims and stalking behavior through the internet. This lesson explores how the unregulated, anonymous and dangerous virtual space of social media can be towards potential child victims. Whether it is online grooming, bullying to sexual assault, we will try to map some of the characteristics of the type of offender who engages in this behavior but does not have the intention of getting caught.

Lesson 6: Homicide 1

Homicide represents the ultimate violent act for the victims obviously, but also for their families, friends, and society more generally. Homicide is also a major area of study within the field of forensic psychology. For many years, forensic psychologists have been trying to understand how people can kill one another and why this lethal form of violence has emerged in our society. This lesson will try to understand the various forms of homicidal violence that exist, ranging from homicides that occur between husband and wife in the “heat of passion” to homicides committed by young children, new mothers, serial killers, and mass murderers.

Lesson 7: Homicide 2

Forensic psychologists are also involved in the development of treatment programs to rehabilitate violent offenders, including those that have committed homicide, and they sometimes attempt to evaluate the effectiveness of these programs. This lesson builds on lesson 6 and discusses some of the research that has been conducted to understand homicidal offenders and how to effectively manage their violence.

Lesson 8: Terrorism

The study of terrorism and the terrorist is essentially a multidisciplinary endeavor, drawing on insights from a range of approaches and perspectives, and in this respect, of course, it is no different from other forensic areas. We will explore this further in this lesson and consider some of the central issues that might characterize our understanding of terrorism and the terrorist from a forensic psychological perspective. It will draw on the idea of process as an organizing concept of becoming, remaining and disengaging. 

Module 4:
Lesson 1: Criminal Profile Analysis 1

There are two main branches of offender profiling that are typically carried out. The first is the FBI-style of profiling used in the USA which will be described in this lesson further, and then there is the more actuarial or statistical style of profiling, most commonly attributed to the Behavioral Investigative Advice (BIA). The FBI style of profiling is based on the work of collecting and gathering information, especially from the scene of the crime. Offender profiling has its utility when there are problems identifying suspects.

Lesson 2: Criminal Profile Analysis 2

The actuarial or statistical approach to offender profiling originated in the work of David Canter (2004) which led to investigative psychology. Statistical offender profiling has been applied to a wide variety of crimes beyond those of the initial FBI focus (serial sexual homicides and rape) to arson and property crimes, for example. A somewhat broader term to describe the activities of psychologists working with the police is, in the UK especially, behavioral investigative advice (BIA). This lesson will explore the statistic attempts to identify patterns in different crime characteristics and also give consideration to the geographical factors in the commission of the crimes.

Lesson 3: Organized and Disorganized Crime Scenes

Information from the crime scene is used to classify the crime scene into organized (where there is evidence that the crime has been carefully planned) or disorganized (where the crime scene looks chaotic and there is little sign of preparation for the crime. This lesson will examine how an organized crime scene suggests, for example, a sexually competent, charming person who lives with a partner while, a disorganized crime scene is indicative of an offender with low intelligence, unskilled occupation and who lives alone.

Lesson 4: Modus Operandi and Crime Signature

As part of the criminal profile analysis and exploration of crime scene characteristics based on different crimes, this lesson will investigate the idiosyncratic nature in which offenders commit the particular crime and try to identify the subtle intricacies of their 'crime signature' by using the famous case of Jack the Ripper as a case study.

Lesson 5: Assessment of Risk, Danger and Recidivism 1

Risk and dangerousness assessment refers to a variety of methods developed to limit the levels of risk and danger to the public while allowing offenders liberty. This lesson will present risk assessment as not a precise science but a useful exercise to perform in obtaining some useful predictors. It is important to establish that risk assessment is different from risk management. Risk management is the various techniques that minimize the risk to other people – keeping the potential offender in prison is a form of risk management. This is not the focus of this lesson but rather how risk assessment is carried out using psychological measures.

Lesson 6: Assessment of Risk, Danger and Recidivism 2

Structured clinical methods have been developed to determine risk, danger and recidivism which involve a degree of clinical judgement but provide a systematic checklist of decisions that need to be taken. this lesson will apply clinical methods of risk assessment such as the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) to determine prediction outcomes whilst critically examining judgement and bias errors that can occur when conducting the various assessments.

Lesson 7: Interventions to Reduce Re-Offending

The rehabilitation of offenders is a multifaceted process involving re-entry, and ultimately reintegration, into social networks and the broader society. While offenders need to work hard at modifying their offence-related personal characteristics, the community also should buttress this individual work with social supports and resources. This lesson will explore intervention approaches for offenders whilst keeping in mind the utility of risk, need and responsivity principle and overall effectiveness of the intervention approach.

Lesson 8: Future Directions for Forensic Psychology

Forensic Psychology is a growing and evolving profession. Much of its concern with crime, law enforcement and the legal system is dealing directly with individuals. So, understanding these people's psychology and experiences is an inevitable part of what legal processes have to deal with. In this lesson, you will become acquainted with 10 emerging areas in the field of Forensic Psychology, explore its current limitations and examine foundational cases in which Forensic Psychology was crucial.

All necessary course materials are included.

System Requirements:

Internet Connectivity Requirements:
  • Cable and DSL internet connections are recommended for the best experience.
Hardware Requirements:
  • CPU: 1 GHz or higher
  • RAM: 2 GB or higher
  • Resolution: 1280 x 720 or higher
  • Speakers / Headphones
  • Microphone (Webinar / Live Online sessions)
Operating System Requirements:
  • Microsoft Windows 7 or 10 (Home, Pro)
  • Mac OSX 10 or higher.
  • Latest Chrome OS
  • Latest Linux Distributions

NOTE: While we understand that our courses can be viewed on Android and iPhone devices, we do not recommend the use of these devices for our courses. The size of these devices do not provide a good learning environment for students taking online or live online based courses.

Web Browser Requirements:
  • Latest Google Chrome is recommended for the best experience.
  • Latest Mozilla FireFox
  • Latest Microsoft Edge
  • Latest Apple Safari
Basic Software Requirements (These are recommendations of software to use):
  • Office suite software (Microsoft Office, OpenOffice, or LibreOffice)
  • PDF reader program (Adobe Reader, FoxIt)
  • Courses may require other software that is denoted in the above course outline.

** The course outlines displayed on this website are subject to change at any time without prior notice. **