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Psychology and Law: The Past, Present, and Future of the Discipline

The EAPL-S is pleased to announce that our collaboration with the journal Psychology, Crime, and Law has resulted in a student-centred special edition showcasing student authors and student editors. The special edition will be officially published this month, but you can already find the articles online through Taylor & Francis. 

See below for the full guest editorial in this issue. The article is written by the co-president of the EAPL student society, Julia Shaw, a fellow student society member, Lisa Öhman, and one of the founders of the EAPL, Peter van Koppen. You can also access the pdf of the article here. As of mid to late August 2013 you will be able to see the full list of articles in this special edition through the Taylor & Francis website, under "Volume 19: Issue 8". We will be highlighting individual articles from this issue over the coming months.

Authors: Julia Shaw a , Lisa Öhman a & Peter van Koppen a

a Department of Psychology, Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences , University of British Columbia , Kelowna , Canada. Published online: 14 May 2013. Direct enquiries about this article to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . DOI:10.1080/1068316X.2013.793979

It is our pleasure to introduce this special edition of Psychology, Crime & Law, which highlights research conducted by students in the area of psychology and law (an area also referred to as legal psychology, forensic psychology, and psycho-legal psychology). This special edition was compiled as part of the effort of the European Association of Psychology and Law Student Society (EAPL-S) to increase awareness of student research, and to promote student involvement in psychology and law.

By fostering a sense of community and building bridges between students and experts in the field, we provide an arena for the development of exceptional scholars to conduct novel and important research. In an attempt to introduce new scholars to the field of psychology and law, and to provide a context for the community of which they are becoming a part, we have summarized the past, present, and future of the discipline. We have done so by providing a summary of the growth of psychology and law on an international scale, and by highlighting the role of students in the present and future growth of the field. We recognize that the students of today are the experts of tomorrow.


Four decades of expansion: international growth of psychology and law

The field of psychology and law has experienced particularly massive expansion over the past few decades. Referred to by a variety of names, including forensic psychology, criminal psychology, and police psychology, research at the intersection of psychology and the law has received increasing attention by students, laypeople, and professionals. Research on issues in psychology and law was first published in the early 1900s by a number of researchers in the field, including German researchers Jaffa (1903), Stern (1904), Weber (1904), and Munsterburg (1908), and by French researcher Clapare`de (1906). These researchers were all involved in the study of witnesses, especially Wilhelm Stern (1871-1938) who is considered the father of this line of research. Stern originated from the school of Hermann Ebbinghaus, the great memory scholar. Just prior to the turn of the century Stern named his line of research Aussagepsychologie, the psychology of witnesses. His research led to the firm conclusion that:

Die Fehlerlose Erinnerung ist nicht die Regel, sondern die Ausnahme. Und selbst der Eid ist kein Schutz gegen Erinnerungstäuschungen (Translation: The error-free memory is not the rule, but the exception. And, even [being sworn in under] oath is no protection against memory illusions). (Stern, 1904, as cited in Sporer, 1987, p. 115)

Stern also served as an expert witness in the area of legal psychology and founded a journal: Beiträge zur Psychologie der Aussage (translation: Contributions to the Psychology of Testimony). Indeed, most of the ideas in Munsterburg’s (1908) On the Witness Stand, which is often referred to as the first major publication in psychology and law, came from Stern. Since these early pioneers first started researching issues in psychology and law, there have been a number of major developments that attest to the increasing status of the discipline.

One of the first organizations dedicated to the dissemination of information on psychology and law, the American Psychology-Law Society (AP-LS), was established in 1969 (Grisso, 1991). The AP-LS was largely responsible for the creation of the Psychology and Law division (division 41) of the American Psychological Association (APA), thereby solidifying psychology and law as an important and independent area of study within the field of psychology. The collaboration between the AP-LS and the APA led to the publication of one of the first journals dedicated to publishing research in the field, Law and Human Behavior, which published its first issue in 1977. Clearly, the early days of the formal foundations of the discipline of psychology and law were heavily Amero-centric. Since these early days, the field of psychology and law has expanded into almost all corners of the world.

Shortly after emerging in the USA, the discipline took hold in Europe. At the same time as the APA was recognizing division 41, the British Psychological Society (BPS) established the Division of Criminological and Legal Psychology in 1977. The division was renamed the Division of Forensic Psychology (DFP) in 1999, and was the first to represent the interests of the increasing number of psychologists working with the criminal and civil justice systems in the UK. The DFP began publishing the journal Legal and Criminological Psychology in 1996. The budding research communities based mostly out of the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, and Sweden, also led to what would become the European Association of Psychology and Law (EAPL). Hans Crombag, Dick Hessing, and Peter van Koppen organized the first European conference in 1988 in Maastricht, Netherlands. Without actually intending to find an organization, but rather to have a meeting of researchers with every designated conference organizer picking the next organizer, and sharing an address list. The second European meeting was held in Nuremberg, Germany, and, with Germans showing an interest in a more formally organized meeting, the EAPL was born (note that in its first year the EAPL was actually called the EALP, the European Association of Legal Psychology). Since the 1992 conference in Oxford, UK, the EAPL was responsible for finding local organizers to host international conferences with the mission of bringing the discipline of Psychology and Law to all corners in Europe, including countries less established in the area. The first European-based journal in the area, Psychology, Crime & Law, was founded in 1994 by Peter van Koppen and Clive Hollin, and soon also became affiliated with the EAPL. The combination of exceptional scholars, journals, and an organization to help bring researchers together meant that Psychology and Law was now firmly established in Europe.

The momentum that was gathering in the field also concurrently spread to other parts of the world. The Australia and New Zealand Association of Psychiatry, Psychology, and Law (ANZAPPL) was the first organization in the area to be founded in Oceania. It was founded in 1972 by a forensic psychiatrist based out of Melbourne and was kept very local until commencing the circulation of conferences throughout Australasia in 1995. In 1993 ANZAPPL began publishing the journal Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, the first journal in the discipline outside of the USA. The internationalization of the discipline continued with the development of an official psychology and law organization in the Nordic Countries. The Nordic Network for Research on Psychology and Law (NNPL) (www.nnpl.net) was founded in Sweden in 2004, catering to the emerging group of prominent researchers in the Nordic and Baltic regions. Although still without formal representation of their own, many other countries have also shown increased activity and interest in the field of psychology and law, including marked activity in Canada, South Africa, Poland, Spain, Italy, Russia, Mexico, and Cyprus.

The emergence of organizations dedicated to furthering the discipline of psychology and law in various regions around the world indicates both growth in the number of researchers in the field, along with a growth in the interest to establish local community and collaboration. Regional representation is critical in providing a sense of local identity, and the increased collaboration between the individual regional bodies on an inter-continental scale has further expanded collegiality and fostered exceptional research in the field. The first international congress of psychology and law was a collaboration between the EAPL and the AP-LS in 1999, and was held in Dublin, Ireland. This initiative was largely the brainchild of David Carson, who managed to run this conference because of his close ties to Mary McAleese, the then president of Ireland. The second meeting, also organized by David Carson, was held in Edinburgh, and the third meeting included the ANZAPPL joining the international congress for the first time in Adelaide in 2003. Overall, it is easy to see that there has been dramatic international expansion in the area of Psychology and Law in the last four decades.


The future of the psychology and law: students

The rapid expansion of the discipline has also led to enormous growth in the number of students who are interested in psychology and law. Training programs, under-graduate and graduate (masters and Ph.D.) university courses, and continuing education represent different ways in which individuals can benefit from the growing body of knowledge in psychology and law. The EAPL has an exceptionally active student section with representatives from around the world, and is the only resource for students who are interested in programs outside of the USA. As part of the EAPL student initiative to make a comprehensive and easily accessible resource for those interested or involved in psychology and law, representatives write publications on studying abroad, finding jobs, along with a series of ‘fact sheets’ on important issues in the field.

Currently (in 2013), the EAPL student section has international representatives in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Russia, Poland, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Australia, Mexico, along with an adjunct representative in the USA. All representatives were asked to write extensive reviews indicating how the student landscape for psychology and law looked in their respective countries in 2012. These efforts indicated that there were a number of specialized psychology and law graduate programs (both masters and Ph.D. level) offered around the world, including nine in Australia, three in Canada, four in Germany, one in the Netherlands, three in Russia, four in Spain, one in Sweden, 20 in the UK, and over 40 in the USA (see Table 1 for details). Although these are the only countries with specialized programs, it is also possible to do independent research on issues related to psychology and law in most countries, and there are many experts in the field accepting graduate students even in countries that do not offer specific programs. Additionally, many countries offer related degrees in fields such as criminology, corrections, social and cognitive psychology, and law that can be a viable alternative.

The increasing presence of students in psychology and law can be felt at conferences, with an ever-increasing proportion of students, and in the publishing domain, with increasing numbers of publications by student authors. It is anticipated that student involvement will continue to increase over the coming years, as the field of psychology and law receives more attention. An ever strengthening community of experts on issues in psychology and law can help to disseminate information to diverse channels, including to police, courts, lawyers, victims, offenders, witnesses and others who are involved in aspects at the intersection of psychology and law. The increased research capacity that comes with a growing field lends itself well to a continued ability to inform the public and professionals, and to dispel damaging myths that can lead to miscarriages of justice. It is the hope of Psychology, Crime & Law, and the EAPL that some of the exceptional research presented in this special student edition will provide useful information, and will inspire budding student researchers to publish their own work. As students, as researchers, and as supervisors, the future of the discipline lies in your hands. We want to help you make the most of it.




Claparède, E. (1906). Experiences collectives sur le temoignage [Collective experiences of testimony]. Archives de Psychologie [Archives of Psychology], 5, 344-357. Retrieved from http://quod.lib.umich.edu

Grisso, T. (1991). A developmental history of the american psychology-law society. Law and Human Behavior, 15(3), 213-231. doi:10.1007/BF01061710

Jaffa, S. (1903). Ein psychologisches Experiment im kriminalistischen seminar der Universität Berlin [A psychological experiment in the criminalistic seminar at the University of Berlin]. In W. Stern (Ed.), Beiträge zur Psychologie der Aussage [Contributions to the psychology of testimony] (pp. 79-99). Leipzig: Barth.

Munsterburg, H. (1908). On the witness stand: Essays on psychology and crime. New York, NY: McClure.

Sporer, S. L. (1987). Gedächtnis in vitro und in vivo: Von Hermann Ebbinghaus’ sinnlosen Silben bis zur experimentellen Pädagogik und zur Aussagenpsychologie [Memory in vitro and in vivo: From Hermann Ebbinghaus’ nonsense syllables to experimental pedagogy and the psychology of verbal reports]. In W. Traxel (Ed.), Internationales Hermann Ebbinghaus Symposion [International Hermann Ebbinghaus Symposium] (pp. 107-119). Passau: Passavia.

Stern, W. (1904). Die Aussage als geistige Leistung und als Verhörsprodukt: Experimentelle Schüleruntersuchungen [Testimony as mental performance and evidence in court: Experi- mental student research]. Leipzig: Barth.

Weber, L. W. (1904). Ein experimenteller Beitrag zur Psychologie der Zeugenaussage [An experimental contribution to the psychology of witness testimony]. In W. Stern (Ed.), Die Aussage als geistige Leistung und als Verhörsprodukt: Experimentelle Schüleruntersuchungen [Testimony as mental performance and evidence in court: Experimental student research] (pp. 44-59). Leipzig: Barth.


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