“A Forensics of the Mind”

courtroom_1_sm.gifIn the most recent issue of Isis (vol. 98, no. 2), Alison Winter discusses the contested and problematic status of psychological expertise in courts of law.

This essay discusses the yoked history of witnessing in science and the law and examines the history of attempts, over the past century, to use science to improve the surety of witness testimony. It examines some of these projects, particularly in the 1960s and 1970s. The essay argues that modern psychology offers a particularly problematic form of expertise because its focus is a task central to the jury’s mandate, the evaluation of a witness and his or her testimony. It concludes that a key feature of modern disputes over the legal relevance of psychological techniques is not the quality or character of the expertise being offered to the court but, rather, the question of whether expertise is needed at all and under what circumstances it should impinge on the jury’s decision making.

Winter is probably best known for her book Mesmerized: Powers of Mind in Victorian Britain (U. Chicago, 2000).


About Christopher Green

Professor of Psychology at York University (Toronto). Former editor of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. Creator of the "Classics in the History of Psychology" website and of the "This Week in the History of Psychology" podcast series.