Forensic Psychology Articles

The Effect of Nature & Nurture on Psychopathy: The Case of James Fallon

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

Structural (left) and functional (right) MRI scan data shows that subjects with the violence-related version of the MAO-A gene (MAOA-L) had reduced volume and activity of the anterior cingulate cortex (blue area in front part of brain at left and corresponding yellow area in at right), which is thought to be the hub of a circuit responsible for regulating impulsive aggression. The color-coded areas show where subjects with the L gene type differed from subjects with the H gene type. Source: NIMH Clinical Brain Disorders Branch

A few months ago I wrote a two-part post about how fMRI and PET scan technology were able to detect differences in the brains of psychopaths compared to non-psychopathic individuals. This area of research has identified that psychopathy has a genetic component, and has even been used in court cases to determine sentencing.

Recently, I came across a story on NPR about a neuroscientist who studies these scans, and decided to analyze his own brain scans and those of his family to determine if psychopathy was present. What he found was more than a little disturbing to him…

Sociopathy vs. Psychopathy

Monday, July 5th, 2010

My last post drew some comments about the use of the word psychopath when describing Joran van der Sloot, the lead suspect in the Natalie Holloway disappearance, so I wanted to clarify what I am referring to when I use the terms psychopathy or psychopath.

The age old debate of psychopathy versus sociopathy is not one that can be answered easily. This is mainly because the words are often used interchangeably, and even when the terms are clearly defined by one scholar, another may disagree and choose to use the term in an entirely different fashion. Looking up these terms in dictionaries can lead to more confusion as the definition for psychopathy may include the word sociopathy in its description and vice versa!

Is Joran van der Sloot a Psychopath?

Monday, June 14th, 2010

The media has been abuzz in the last two weeks about the capture of Joran van der Sloot, a Dutch national charged in the murder of 21-year-old Stephany Flores of Peru. van der Sloot was also a suspect in the 2005 disappearance of Natalee Holloway, an 18-year-old Alabama resident who disappeared on a high school graduation trip in Aruba.

Stephany Flores was killed in a Lima hotel on May 30th, 2010; five years to the day after Natalee Holloway disappeared. van der Sloot was arrested twice in the Holloway case but was freed for lack of evidence.

Speak Up for Your Right to Remain Silent? Supreme Court Rules on Miranda Rights

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

In its third Miranda ruling this session, the Supreme Court ruled today that a suspect must “unambiguously” state his or her desire to invoke their Miranda rights (referring to the right to remain silent in this case) in order for those rights to be protected.

This case came to the Supreme Court after the lower courts conflicted on whether a confessional statement from a suspect, who remained mostly silent throughout a three plus hour police investigation, was valid in court.

Specifically, in this case, the suspect, Van Chester Thompkins, offered little verbal response throughout his interrogation, but three hours into his interrogation, he implicated himself in the crime by giving an affirmative answer to one of the officer’s questions. He later tried to revoke his confessional statement by stating that he was using his right to remain silent, hence why he was so quiet throughout the rest of the interrogation.

Serial Killer in the UK: A Modern Day "Ripper" Arrested in England

Monday, May 31st, 2010

Comstock Images

Stephen Griffiths, a 40-year-old graduate student in criminology, was charged with the murder of three prostitutes from the West Yorkshire area of England. Griffiths is alleged to have killed Suzanne Blamires, Susan Rushworth, and Shelley Armitage within the city’s red light district in the past 11 months.

Griffiths was reportedly conducting research on serial killers, and told a neighbor he was “getting a PhD in murder and Jack the Ripper.”

Griffiths was caught after review of closed circuit security footage revealed him beating up a woman and then shooting her in the head with a crossbow. Later, the woman’s head and body parts were discovered in a local river.

Supreme Court Rules that Sexually Violent Predators Can Be Imprisoned Indefinitely

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

Last week the Supreme Court ruled that “sexually dangerous” inmates could be held indefinitely in prison, or civil commitment hospital settings, after their prison terms are complete.

The case, decided with a 7-2 ruling, was raised after four men who were deemed sexually dangerous, were held after their prison sentences were over with no end date in sight. The men attempted to prove in the lower courts that indefinite imprisonment based on suspected “future crimes” was unconstitutional.

Twenty states already have laws that allow for indefinite imprisonment of sexually violent predators. This recent Supreme Court ruling supports those states’ decisions and allows other states to institute similar laws.

This topic is one of great debate, because while most people agree that the protection of the public against sex offenders is primary, the implication behind the government being allowed to impose indefinite imprisonment on someone brings up thoughts of Guantanamo Bay.

A Serial Killer Museum? Inside the FBI's Evil Minds Research Museum

Monday, May 10th, 2010

It seems a little bizarre, but the FBI has in fact developed a museum dedicated to the research of serial killers. Dubbed the “Evil Minds Research Museum,” it focuses on the private artwork, writings, correspondence, and other personal artifacts of serial killers. Located at the FBI training site in Quantico, VA, the museum is in the basement of the Behavior Science Unit (BSU) and is not open to the public. Only scholars and researchers will be allowed to view the materials to analyze and provide insight to the FBI into what makes a serial killer.

Young Jurors More Compassionate Toward Mentally Ill Offenders

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

A study presented at the recent British Psychological Society Annual Conference revealed that younger jurors are more lenient and sympathetic to offenders with a mental illness than older jurors.

“The study used two groups of participants (the first aged 18 to 30 and the second 50 plus) who were shown videos of courtroom scenes depicting female defendants, either displaying overt behavioral symptoms of borderline personality disorder or not displaying any symptoms to examine whether the two age groups had different attitudes towards the defendants.”

The authors found that the participants from the older group felt that the defendant was “more guilty” than those in the younger group. In addition, they tended to recommend longer, harsher sentences than the younger participants.

Vulnerable Populations and the Legal System

Monday, March 29th, 2010

“It is an article of jailhouse faith that poor people get what they pay for in lawyers: Nothing.” A recent article in the New York Times gives an inside look at how vulnerable populations (the poor, the mentally ill, etc.) are treated within the legal system.

The article details one woman’s encounters with a public defender’s office; however, her situation is not unique. Low salaries and high caseloads often permeate public defenders’ offices, contributing to the problem of unbalanced representation for disadvantaged individuals.

False Confessions: Can Psychological Theories Improve Interrogation Techniques?

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010
Videotape Confession

© PhotoDisc

A false confession is an admission to a crime that the confessor did not commit. The February 2010 edition of the Law and Human Behavior journal, released by the American-Psychology Law Society, has an interesting “white paper” (a report that addresses issues and makes suggestions on how to solve them) on police-induced confessions (Abstract).

The authors of this study review current police interrogation methods and laws surrounding admissibility of confession evidence in court. They apply their awareness of psychological principles to examine false confessions.


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