Law enforcement agencies need the most effective methods to gather information about criminal activity. But the evidence must balance the need to prosecute, without putting innocent people at risk of miscarriage of justice.
Research within our world-renowned International Centre for Research in Forensic Psychology focuses on the intersection between psychology and the law. Our research portal, Pure, has a full list of our staff and researchers.
We investigate the most-effective approaches to gathering intelligence during investigations, taking into consideration factors that may influence how events are remembered, such as alcohol and stress.
We probe issues such as how to tell when someone is telling a lie, how stress and environment can affect cognitive ability, and how investigators can obtain the most reliable information from witnesses, victims, suspects and sources in cross-cultural interactions.
With increasing security risks in the wake of terrorism, and other emerging threats, new tools and techniques – based on psychological science – are needed to obtain better intelligence and information to promote greater security.
We’re working to improve the criminal justice system, looking at how prisons can be modernised to support offender management, rehabilitation and effective intervention to reduce re-offending. Our research is also helping build rehabilitation programmes to reduce the likelihood of reoffending and to help offenders make a positive contribution to society.
And in a highly-stressful sector, we work with personnel across all areas of the criminal justice system to help them deal with occupational and post-traumatic stress, which can have serious personal and organisational consequences.
We're leaders in the use of virtual reality to understand offending behaviour, and our staff are qualified and experienced practitioners in forensic psychology – each with extensive contacts and expertise in applied settings.
Allied to our Professional Doctorate course, we provide training in applied forensic psychology to practitioners aiming to become Chartered and Registered Forensic Psychologists. We're one of only 4 such training providers in the UK.
Our research explores the following topics
- Detecting deception
- Eyewitness identification
- False memories
- Former members of the armed services in the criminal justice system
- Identifying cross-cultural factors in information elicitation
- Interviewing child witnesses
- Investigative interviewing
- Memory in legal contexts
- New approaches to domestic abuse interventions
- Offender decision-making and interventions
- Offender resettlement and rehabilitation
- Offender risk assessment
- The role and function of shame therapy with offenders
Facilities and research methods
Our research makes use of the following facilities:
- Virtual reality lab – Our virtual reality lab facilitates re-enactment of risky situations for offenders and non-offenders so we can assess decision-making and emotion as it happens.
- Replica police interview suite – Our interview suite consists of one-way observational facilities, discrete cameras and audio recording equipment. One room is set up to mimic a police interview room and is used for training in investigative techniques in criminal justice settings, such as gathering evidence from vulnerable witnesses, and undertaking research with offenders. A second room is set up to mimic a lounge and is used for mock burglary scenarios, and exploring child behaviour in an informal environment.
- Large observation suite – Our large observation suite has a versatile room with modular seating, one-way mirrors, digital video recording and remote audio-visual equipment. The suite has been used for all types of group observational work, including testing minority influence scenarios, deception studies and jury decision making.
- Digital analysis and video editing suite – Our digital analysis and video editing suite has dedicated computing facilities that run video analysis software. A photo booth allows the researcher to take standard pictures for use in studies involving police line-ups and mugshots.
- Applied cognition laboratory – Our applied cognition laboratory allows for simultaneous testing of multiple participants on computer-based experiments. Our smaller testing rooms allow for individual testing. We also have eye tracking laboratories.
Our qualitative research methods include interview-based methods and structured comparisons. We also conduct field studies and randomised controlled trials.
We have links with national and international police services, Her Majesty’s Probation and Prison Service, Special Hospitals, National insurance companies, Neighbourhood Watch, and the Offender Personality Disorder pathway.
Within our Professional Doctorate in Forensic Psychology, we have students on work placements in Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, the National Health Service, and ‘Together for Mental Wellbeing‘ Liaison and Diversion service.
Other partnerships include Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, Portsmouth City Council and Care after Combat.
Our work has been funded by:
- Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
- Home Office
- British Academy
- Nuffield Foundation
- US Government
- Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats
- Royal Society
- Leverhulme Trust
- Metropolitan Police and Police Federation
- British Psychological Society
- Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS)
- Scottish Prison Service
We're collaborating with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Lancaster University and the University of Bath on an interdisciplinary portfolio of activity maximising the value of behavioural and social science research to understanding, mitigating and countering threats to national security.
We worked with the International Criminal Court and multi-disciplinary colleagues to produce an evidence-based policy resource for cross-cultural interviewing for UK and international investigative practitioners.
We examined the effect of the identification medium on eyewitness decisions.
We're collaborating with Vrije University (Creative Technologies) and University of Twente (Criminology) in the Netherlands to use simulated environments to understand the behaviours, thought patterns and emotions of burglars. This research can help rehabilitate offenders and help householders and businesses better protect their properties.
We're working with the University of York to assess the impact of digital technology on the culture of prisons, and on prisoners’ ability to self-manage their behaviour and reoffending.
Our research is regularly published in the following journals
- Aggression and Violent Behavior
- International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology
- Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition
- Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied
- Law and Human Behavior
- Legal and Criminological Psychology
- Psychological Science
- Psychology, Crime and Law
- Psychology, Public Policy, and Law
We have presented our research at the following conferences:
- American Psychology and Law Society (APLS)
- American Society of Criminology
- European Association for Psychology and Law (EAPL)
- European Society of Criminology
- International Investigative Interviewing Research Group (IIIRG)
- Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition (SARMAC)
Discover our areas of expertise
We're translating ideas in psychology into practical solutions to develop tools to improve lifestyles and wellbeing.
In the Centre for Situated Action and Communication, we're studying psychological phenomena in relation to the context and situation in which it emerges.
Interested in a PhD in Psychology?
Browse our postgraduate research degrees – including PhDs and MPhils – at our Psychology postgraduate research degrees page.