Past-President’s Column: Forensic Media Psychology: A Growing Professional Specialty

Bernard Luskin

Bernard Luskin

Bernard Luskin, EdD
bernieluskin@gmail.com

In a previously published analysis in my Psychology Today column, The Media Psychology Effect, I outlined the emergence of Forensic Media Psychology (FMP) as a professional specialty in psychology. In this essay, I highlight the importance of this emerging specialty and the ensuing professional opportunities increasingly available as the field grows because of new technologies, their wider social use, and increasing understanding of the importance of psychology that come together as we gather and report data about ongoing world events, many of which involve social justice issues.

The term “forensic” may refer to fact finding for use in a court of law. Today, “forensic” increasingly refers to the scientific and behavioral principles and practices applied to fact finding, analysis, and explanations of events for the purpose of litigation or to promote products and services, and more. The addition of psychology helps examine and increase understanding of the complexities of human behavior in all its diversity. Examples include plagiarism, copyright issues, cyber-terrorism, cyber-bullying, security, surveillance, and privacy issues. Other areas that fall within FMP’s scope include conducting therapy within and across state lines via video or teleconferencing, teaching, testing, and providing feedback online. I believe FM psychologists will play a major role in disseminating their analyses and interpretations of judicial deliberations to help people understand the legal as well psychological ramifications of global events requiring judicial attention. Deception, unreliable eyewitness memory, and controversial jury decision-making in civil and criminal litigation are in the news and the subject of frequent debate these days. Add to these the exposure of the complexities of reported media events via surveillance cameras, body-cam recordings, and bystanders’ cellphone video recordings uploaded and shared worldwide in seconds influencing public opinion even before a case goes to trial. Events in rural areas are not local anymore. They receive instant global coverage and attention sometimes provoking much emotion and individual and organized activism (e.g., Black Lives Matter).

Psychological research has made many contributions to what happens in courtroom deliberations: it has (a) refined interrogation and jury selection techniques, (b) popularized the use of psychological tests, and (c) raised awareness among law professionals and the general public concerning the various social and psychological influences on eyewitness memory and jury decisions. However, another area requires attention from media psychologists. Vitriol (2008) notes that the media portrayals of forensic psychology suggest the “public’s genuine concern, yet naïve fascination with the legal system. The entertainment media may accentuate the importance of, or at least, the pervasiveness of forensic psychology, but at the same time, misrepresent its true scientific base.” Thus, forensic media psychologists have a major role to play in providing more accurate portrayals of psychology’s contributions in courtroom dramas to raise public understanding of the legal system.

I see the need for action from media psychologists in developing training programs in FMP. Forensic Media Psychology offers substantial research and professional opportunities for those who develop expertise. As a start, I have proposed three core courses that comprise a specialty in FMP. This sequence can provide basic competency focusing on an overview of the field, its emerging significance in courtroom deliberations and media portrayals, discussion of concepts and theories of psychology that have applications to FMP, and a discussion of research methodologies for investigation of specific situations.

Summary

  1. Forensic psychology includes many specialty areas where depth expertise in analysis, research and psychology make a difference. Specialties such as broadcasting, publishing, politics and public policy, commerce, entertainment, and health care, each offers professional opportunity for those with unique experience and knowledge.
  2. With the proliferation and saturation of media, Forensic Media Psychology has become a pervasive specialty of increasing significance crossing all fields.
  3. Refinement in forensics will grow from increased science, precedent setting decisions in civil and criminal litigation and increasing knowledge about the implications of psychology in relating forensic results to human behavior.

There are opportunities for schools of psychology, law schools, schools of television, media and cinema, business schools, and schools of public policy to include courses and concentrations in FMP. A good partnership would be FMP courses offered by a school of psychology as part of a JD program in a law school. I can be reached at my email address for further communication.

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