PSY 1C 04: APPLIED PSYCHOLOGY
UNIT IV: EMERGING IDEAS IN APPLIED
TOPIC: History of Psychology
My only purpose is to turn the attention of serious men to an absurdly
neglected field [psychology and law] which demands the full attention
of the social community. (Munsterberg, 1908, p. 12)
The development of the synthesis of law and psychology will be a
long and perhaps a tedious process; but it is a process, however much
patience it may require, which for the law will yield a fruitful harvest.
(Cairns, 1935, p. 219).
While it is difficult to mark the true beginning of the field of
psychology and law or “legal psychology”, a conventional marker is
Munsterberg ’ s seminal work, On the Witness Stand: Essays on
Psychology and Crime (1908) . The existence of the contemporary
field of psychology and law has therefore now passed the first century
mark. Given that milestone, it is appropriate and fittings to reflect on
the development of the field. Having spent more than 25 years in it,
this is a particularly exciting opportunity for me. It is my view that by
considering the development and progress of the field, we may be
able to identify some successes, challenges, and, ultimately, future
To begin, I will consider the early development of the field. Many
will be surprised to learn of the rather inauspicious beginnings that
essentially led to its demise by World War II. The modern rise of
psychology and law really began in the 1960s and has continued ever
since. Two areas of research that have led to successes in practice and
policy development will be briefly reviewed. The first is an area in
which I have worked for many years, the prediction of risk for
violence. This area comes from the area of clinical forensic
psychology. To demonstrate an example from experimental
psychology, I will also briefly y note that considerable advances that
have been made in the police line-up literature that is derived from the
eyewitness testimony literature.
Despite the successes, many challenges exist and will be discussed.
Finally, the chapter concludes with a review of some of the factors
that I believe are necessary to realize future opportunities for the field.
As noted at the outset, conventional wisdom suggests that the
beginning of the field of psychology and law is marked by
Munsterberg’s book, On the Witness Stand.
Although Freud suggested in a 1906 speech to Austrian judges that
psychology has important applications for their field (Brigham, 1999),
he did not elaborate his views in print. Munsterberg’s book was a bold
attempt to argue that the emerging field of psychology had much to
offer the law. Munsterberg, who is seen as the founder of applied
psychology (Boring, 1950; Moskowitz, 1977), came out of the Wundt
school of German experimental psychology and spent his career in the