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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Stephen J Ross
TPSYCH 422
Tacoma Campus

Psychology and the Legal System

Focuses on the application of psychological research methods and knowledge to contemporary issues in the legal system. Topics include psychology of policing, criminal profiling, serial killers, criminal investigations, pretrial publicity, competency/insanity, scientific jury selection, juror decision making, sentencing/death penalty, and the social scientist as an expert witness. Prerequisite: either TPSYCH 100.

Class description

This course will focus on the application of social science research methods and psychological knowledge to contemporary issues in the legal system. Course topics and discussions will include the psychology of policing, criminal profiling, serial killers, criminal investigations, pretrial publicity, competency/insanity, scientific jury selection, juror decision making, sentencing/death penalty, the social scientist as an expert witness, and research methods used by legal psychologists. We will explore issues, debates, substantive information and current events in the courts and the media.

Student learning goals

1. Define legal psychology and explain how basic fields of psychology (e.g., social, cognitive, developmental, clinical) can inform our understanding of the legal system. This objective contributes to the Psychology SLOs to 1.) be familiar with the major theoretical approaches and historical trends in psychology and 5.) be able to synthesize theories and methodologies across disciplines in the humanities and social sciences.

2. Identify, discuss, and compare the roles of forensic and legal psychologists. This objective contributes to the Psychology SLOs to 1.) be familiar with the major theoretical approaches and historical trends in psychology and 5.) be able to synthesize theories and methodologies across disciplines in the humanities and social sciences.

3. Apply the scientific method and basic principles of psychological research and be able to critically evaluate such research. This objective contributes to the Psychology SLO to 2.) understand the core concepts and methodologies of psychology.

4. Understand how basic psychological processes influence policing, investigations, and decision-making within the legal system. This objective contributes to the Psychology SLO to 4.) understand that human behavior may have some common determinants.

5. Understand the social and individual factors that are associated with crime, punishment, and victimization. This objective contributes to the Psychology SLO to 4.) understand that human behavior may have some common determinants and to 6.) understand the application of psychological principles to the understanding of social issues.

6. Understand the distinction between science and law and how psychological research is used (and/or ignored) in court decisions. This objective contributes to the Psychology SLO to 6.) understand the application of psychological principles to the understanding of social issues.

General method of instruction

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Stephen J Ross
Date: 04/11/2012