Forensic Psychology: Understanding Offending Behaviour


Forensic psychology is a constantly growing discipline and covers an exciting and broad range of topics. This module will examine key issues in forensic psychology integrating information from clinical, biological, developmental, personality, social and cognitive psychology.


The aim of this module is to provide the student with a comprehensive overview of Forensic Psychology.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this module the student should be able to:

1.  Describe and evaluate key developmental and genetic models of criminal psychopathology.

2.  Assess the impact of environmental, family, cultural and peer influences on criminal behaviour.

3.  Demonstrate an understanding of factors that increase the likelihood of serious and violent behaviour.

4.  Demonstrate an awareness of risk prediction and the basis for interventions with offenders.

5.  Understand methodological challenges associated with forensic psychology research.

Indicative Content

1 General Issues

Introduction to offenders, offences, victims, and the role of psychology in the actions of the police, the courts and prisons.

2 Explanatory Models of Crime and Offending

Biological factors, gender differences, individual differences, childhood and developmental issues, social and economic factors, and cognitive-behavioural approaches.

3 Developmental Basis for Criminal Behaviour

Biological basis of social, aggressive, and sexual behaviour with regard to neuropsychological, neuropharmacological and evolutionary issues. Psychological and biological treatments for childhood and adult psychopathology.

4 Mental Health and Offending

Mental health issues in offending behaviour. The relationship between mental health symptoms and risk in relation to offending. Personality disorder and schizophrenia as critical issues in serious offending.

5 Personality Abnormality

Inherited and acquired conditions in lifelong risk of criminal behaviour such as ADHD, Conduct Disorder (CD) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Examining the factors that increase the likelihood of serious sexual and violent behaviour, stalking, and criminal recidivism.

6 Substance Use and Crime

Addiction Models of criminal behaviour. Models of emotional dyscontrol in offending. The role of alcohol and drugs in serious assaultative behaviour, neuropharmcology and psychology.

7 Specific Criminal Offences

Consideration of information from specific offending populations and the psychological factors contributing to offences. Offences may include violent offending, fire raising, stalking, terrorism.

8 Sexual Offending

Detailed consideration of individual offenders and the psychological characteristics of their criminal offences and offence development in relation to sexual and violent offending.

9 Risk Assessment

Critical discussion of the role and nature of risk assessments with forensic populations including specific methods of risk assessment.

10 Treatment and Interventions

Consideration of the background to the development and application of treatments and interventions including `what works?' approaches and cognitive-behavioural treatments, as well as key issues relating to working with offenders.

Statement on Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Teaching and learning for this module is focused on enabling students to attain the Abertay Attributes (Intellectual; Professional; Personal; Active Citizen) within the context of Forensic Psychology. In so doing, teaching will comprise a combination of lectures, tutorials and guest/expert speaker seminars. Students will be expected to actively engage with the material presented in this module. The lectures will be punctuated with activities and discussion sessions in which students will be expected to actively participate. In the tutorials students will be given the opportunity to take responsibility for identifying relevant material and to lead discussions on topics that will be agreed between the Module Leader and the class. Some of the necessary reading material will comprise journal articles and active engagement will be encouraged through the use of these in lectures and tutorials both at an individual and teamwork level (specifically supporting the development of collaboration). The assessment involves one piece of essay based coursework which will be set at the start of the semester. They will be assessed on the selection of information covered and the communication of relevant ideas in the essay. Students will be expected to independently source their own relevant reading material to use as evidence to support the arguments they present in the written coursework. In total, approximately 50% of the time spent on this module will be preparation for, and engagement in, enquiry based activities.

Teaching and Learning Work Loads

Total 200
Lecture 26
Tutorial/Seminar 5
Supervised Practical Activity 0
Unsupervised Practical Activity 0
Assessment 30
Independent 139

Guidance notes

Credit Value – The total value of SCQF credits for the module. 20 credits are the equivalent of 10 ECTS credits. A full-time student should normally register for 60 SCQF credits per semester.


We make every effort to ensure that the information on our website is accurate but it is possible that some changes may occur prior to the academic year of entry. The modules listed in this catalogue are offered subject to availability during academic year 2019/10 , and may be subject to change for future years.