Module details for Investigative Psychology and the Law: Applying Psychology from Crime Scene to Court


The criminal justice system involves a variety of organisations and professionals, e.g. the police, the courts and offender services. This module will examine how psychological theories and investigation can inform procedures followed in these organisations. Much of this module is grounded in cognitive and social psychology as applied to the criminal justice processes.


The aim of this module is to provide a critical understanding of the ways different sub-disciplines in psychology have addressed applied questions in the criminal justice system and influenced our understanding of the concept of best practice in the procedures and decisions taken in this field.

Learning Outcomes

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

1.  Describe and critically evaluate different types of research paradigms that have been used in applied psychological settings.

2.  Describe and critically evaluate the findings of applied psychological research.

3.  Evaluate ways in which such findings have impacted on the design of UK police and other criminal justice procedures.

Indicative Content

1 Introduction and Context

An introduction to investigative psychology and the importance of recognising how other people can influence our behaviour and cognitive processes, including an overview of both theory and application of social influence research in this exciting and developing area of applied psychology.

2 Investigative processes

An overview of the key stages and issues in relation to police and wider criminal justice system investigative processes including some of the key legal powers associated with these.

3 Offender Profiling

What is offender profiling and how is it undertaken? There will be evaluation of difference approaches to offender profiling and consideration of the future for this topical approach to investigation. What is serial homicide and how can offender profiling be applied to this major crime?

4 Investigating Missing Persons

What do missing people do and where do they go? What role is there for psychological theories in explaining missing person behaviour and helping the police investigate cases?

5 Eyewitness Testimony

The effects of social influence on memory: stress, suggestibility, alcohol, conformity. Applications of this research to real life (e.g., accuracy of memory in a forensic investigation) will be presented and evaluated.

6 Identification

The role of human memory, face processing, and communicative styles on the construction of facial composites and identification of suspects. Discussion of the appropriateness of the use of CCTV footage as evidence in courts of law.

7 False and Recovered Memories

How and why do people recall events which did not occur or recall events at a later date which they were previously unable to recall? What can the study of human memory tell us about this interesting debate? What implications does this have for the criminal justice system?

8 Interviewing

How should we best interview witnesses to ensure reliable and complete statements are made? What differences might there be in interviewing suspects rather than witnesses? Critical evaluation of the tools and techniques psychologists developed to aid interviewing (e.g., the Cognitive Interview)?

9 Child Witnesses

What can the study of child development tell us about the appropriateness of having children as witnesses in court? Critical evaluation of appropriate questioning techniques.

10 Expert Witnesses

What is/should be the role of the psychologist as an Expert Witness?

Teaching and Learning Work Loads

Teaching and Learning Method Hours
Lecture 26
Tutorial/Seminar 5
Practical Activity 0
Assessment 30
Independent 139
Total 200

Guidance notes

SCQF Level - The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework provides an indication of the complexity of award qualifications and associated learning and operates on an ascending numeric scale from Levels 1-12 with SCQF Level 10 equating to a Scottish undergraduate Honours degree.

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 2021/22 , and may be subject to change for future years.