Forensic Psychology Definition

Here is an accurate, easy-to-remember forensic psychology definition:

"Forensic psychology means using psychological knowledge and methods to help answer legal questions."

A More Precise Forensic Psychology Definition

Magician pulling rabbit from hat

That is the shortest forensic psychology definition I know.

Here is a longer but more precise definition of forensic psychology:

"Forensic psychology means the application of knowledge and methods derived from psychological science to help answer legal questions."

Why is that definition more precise

* The verb, apply tells you a bit more than the nebulous verb, use.

* The longer definition specifies that the "knowledge and methods" derive from scientific investigation—they're not just pulled out of a hat.

Although I'm injecting a bit of humor here, there is actually an important legal reason to emphasize the scientific nature of psychological knowledge and methods.

In a majority of states and in federal cases in the United States, rules regarding expert witness testimony require that an expert's testimony be grounded in scientific or other technical knowledge. 

For example, in federal court proceedings "a witness who is qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education may testify in the form of an opinion or otherwise if:

(a) the expert’s scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will help the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue;

(b) the testimony is based on sufficient facts or data;

(c) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods; and

(d) the expert has reliably applied the principles and methods to the facts of the case."a

forensic, adj.

Many people understandably think that the adjectiveforensic means "criminal" as in "crime scene investigation" or a forensic pathologist performing autopsies to help solve a crime. Wildly successful TV series such as CSI and NCIS raised awareness of such endeavors.

The adjective, forensic has a relatively broad definition. One way to think about it is that forensic simply means "legally related".

A more pertinent definition of forensic is that when the word modifies a scientific or technical discipline, it means "the application of scientific or technical knowledge and methods to help answer legal questions".b,c,d

Forensic Computer Science

For example, forensic computer science means the application of knowledge and methods derived from computer science to help answer legal questions. 

Here is an example of a legal question a forensic computer scientist might help answer:

"Did the plaintiff send this email on February 29, 2016 or did he somehow make it look like that was the 'send date' when, in fact, he sent it earlier that month?"

A Forensic Accountant?

Forensic Accounting for Dummies book

Yes! If there's a "for Dummies" book it's an area of strong interest. (By the way, I have found almost all of the for Dummies books to be well-written and informative.)

Forensic accounting means the application of knowledge and methods derived from the academic and professional discipline of accounting to help answer legal questions.

Here is an example of a legal question a forensic accountant might help answer:

"Did the defendant create a misleading Profit & Loss Statement for the years 2015 through 2018 to avoid paying taxes?"

Forensic Architecture

Forensic Architecture is the name of an innovative firm that combines insights and methodology from architecture, library science, journalism, archaeology, engineering, and other disciplines to uncover causes of human rights violations, among other projects.

forensics, n.

The adjective forensic is often confused with its kissing cousin, the nounforensics, which means scientific procedures or techniques used to investigate crimes.e,f,g


a. Fᴇᴅ. R. Eᴠɪᴅ. 702,

b. "forensic, adj. ... 2. Relating to the use of science or technology in the investigation and establishment of facts or evidence in a court of law ...." American Heritage Dictionary. 5th ed. (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011),

c. "forensic, adj. - Pertaining to, connected with, or used in courts of law; suitable or analogous to pleadings in court. forensic medicine n. medicine in its relations to law; medical jurisprudence." Oxford University Press. Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1989),

d. "forensic, adj. ... 3 : relating to or dealing with the application of scientific knowledge to legal problems // forensic medicine // forensic science // forensic pathologist // forensic experts." Merriam-Webster, Webster's Third New International Dictionary (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1961),

e. "forensics, n. - Forensic science; (also with capital initial) a department devoted to forensic science, typically as part of a police force (with singular or plural concord)." Oxford University Press. Oxford English Dictionary, 3rd ed. (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2015),

f. "forensic, n. ... 3 : forensics plural in form but singular or plural in construction :  the application of scientific knowledge to legal problems; especially :  scientific analysis of physical evidence (such as evidence from a crime scene)." Merriam-Webster, Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1961),

g. "forensics - The science and practice of examining physical evidence and applying the physical properties of that evidence to the resolution of legal issues, particularly identifying the commission, nature, and perpetrators of crimes." Segen, Joseph C. The Doctor's Dictionary, 2nd ed. (Pennsauken, NJ: BookBaby, 2011).

Do you agree or disagree with the forensic psychology definition I provide at the top of the page? Please comment below!

If you don't remember the forensic psychology definition at the top of the page, here it is: 

"Forensic psychology means using psychological knowledge and methods to help answer legal questions."

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