Forensic Psychology : a brief overview


“The evaluation or investigation of something as part of a methodical survey, to assess suitability for a particular role or purpose.”


Screening is done by various means in daily life- luggage is screened using x-rays in airports, people in corporate companies are screened for drug use and alcohol at random and patients are screened prevent or treat cancer. Screening from a psychological aspect involves finding if someone is suitable for a particular job.

Psychological assessment helps to understand individual uniqueness. Using simple but in-dept interviews and a comprehensive battery of well researched and standardized tests with highly reliable and valid results we can get a conclusive, complex picture of an individual.

In order for screening tests to be comprehensive and efficient, they must target various psychological factors such as intellectual and personality functioning, which further branch out to emotional, cognitive, intellectual, developmental, executive, educational, social, organic, neuro-psychological, and physiological components.

Most commonly used psychological assessments:

  1. s2Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-IV (WAIS-IV)
    • Published in 2008 by Pearson, it is the most commonly used intelligence test that is used to calculate the IQ using various sub-tests such as Block Design, Arithmetic, Digit Span, etc.
    • The founder of this test is David Wechsler, who complied the first installment (WAIS-I) in the year 1955.


  1. s7Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 (MMPI-2)
    • It is a objective personality inventory and provides multiple dimensions like clinical syndromes, personality patterns and psychosocial stressors.
    • It is self-administered and contains a set of 567 True/False questions. It is the most widely used of these three tests and has over 115 translations.


  1. s5Rorschach Ink Blot Test (Exner Method)
  • This test is described as “an open-structured, performance-based cognitive perceptual problem-solving task” in which the administrator presents the examinee with classic inkblots and is asked to describe what the blots might be.
  • Scoring is done based on the answer given and the individual is studied on characteristics such as impulse control, stress tolerance, reality testing, imagination, cognitive style, adaptive techniques and interpersonal relationships.
  • Despite controversies, this test is said to be quite reliable and cannot be faked easily as compared to other self-administered tests.


Forensic psychology uses screening to gain some basic knowledge of a suspect’s mental and psychological condition before proceeding to more specialized testing and forming a full fledged criminal profile. Screening is used to identify offenders at a potentially high risk for a specific mental condition or disorder which may affect their trial process and other procedures that require their presence both mentally and physically.

There are two basic types of screening tests used in forensic psychology- Personality screening and cognitive screening.

Personality screening involves standardized tests such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory or the California Psychological Inventory. These are designed to measure key personality characteristics such as introversion or extroversion, intuition, honesty, neuroticism, optimism, and so on. From this, the psychologist can get a inkling if the suspect in question has committed the crime or not. In the forensic context, more specific screening tools, such as the Psychopathy Check List may also be used. Psychopathy, or anti-social personality disorder, is very common among criminals and a high score may be a useful pointer but is not, in itself, proof of guilt. Another specialized screening tool is the Structured Interview of Reported Symptoms, which detects malingering (pretending to be still ill or injured). Thus, in the forensic field, these tests emphasize on proving the integrity of the individual.

Cognitive tests examine the mental ability of the subjects. These help to determine if the suspect is capable of committing the type of crime. For instance, a suspect with very low mental ability would not have committed a computer crime that involved hacking, etc. It is more likely that the suspect would’ve committed a violent crime. Similarly, if the suspect scores very low values on verbal reasoning and memory tests, it is unlikely that he or she would’ve committed crimes that exhibit detailed planning. These kind of tests are administered through the WAIS tests.

These tests are accepted by the courts as they are validated and reliable. However, these test results by themselves cannot be conclusive and used as a final tool in court procedures. These must be used along with existing collected evidence and the mini-profile created by psychologists about the suspects.


Competency Screening Test (CST)

As the name suggests, CST is used to check the competency or proficiency of the suspects or individuals involved in trials from the dimension of mental health. This forensic instrument was designed and tested to provide objective measures based on the legal criteria for determination of a defendant’s capacity to participate in his or her own defense against criminal charges. Psychological diagnoses of mental illness or mental retardation may indicate incompetence for trial but may not be sufficient for such a finding by a court. This was introduced to prevent such mistakes and mishaps from happening in the future.

First appearing in 1764 in the British Common Law, it gave an individual the right to be both mentally and physically present to face his or her accusers. In 1960, U.S Supreme Court used competency as a valid necessity during the Dusky v Unites States(1960) case wherein it was stated that the defendant must have rational understanding of the proceedings and consult his lawyer with the same. It was also necessary for the defendant to have factual understandings of the aforementioned proceedings against him.

Description of the test and method

 The test consists of 22 self administered questions in a pencil paper test format. The questions all require sentences to be completed. Each item is related to information regarding the task of the suspect going to trial and he/she is required to give answers that disprove impairment of this knowledge in the individual.

A 3-point scale is used and the answers are marked from 0 points to 2 points.

For example: The item is “When I go to court, the lawyer will…”, the defendant must choose the answer “Defend me” which will be awarded 2 points and the answer “Put me away” will fetch 0 points.

Scores can range from 0 to 44 and a score of 20 and below is considered incompetent for trial whereas a score above 20 is considered competent for trial.


Jail Screening Assessment Tool (JSAT)

This is a forensic screens6ing tool used to identify offenders and criminals suffering from mental disorders in prison. It is a known fact that those in the criminal justice system are more susceptible to mental health issues than the general population. Even so, very little care is given to take preventive measures or to address those who are already diagnosed with mental disorders and related issues.

It is statistically proven that those who suffer from mental illnesses during a prison sentence have a more violent behavior and commit crimes after they have been released or even when they are on parole. Thus it is of paramount importance to identify mental disorders and treat them as soon as possible.

Description of the test and method of administration

 The test is administered through a brief interview (for about 20 minutes) with the inmate and consideration of relevant history. Although it is brief, the test is designed to extract sufficient information about the psychological condition of the subject. It is administered by a mental health professional such as a clinical psychologist or an intern.

The mental health screening should ideally be conducted within the first day of admission of the inmate. The purpose of this test is to identify any serious mental disorders that may require rapid management or evaluation immediately.

The interview covers 10 content areas:

  • Personal/Demographic information and social background
  • Legal status
  • Mental health assessment and treatment
  • Suicide and self-harm risk
  • Violence issues
  • Criminal history
  • Recent social adjustment
  • Recent mental status
  • Substance use and abuse history
  • Mental health history.

The JSAT is not a test that gives cut-out scores and a pointer as to which people need further assessment. It is more of a structured decision making test where the professional decides the condition of the subject and his/her mental needs based on a guided, formal, standardized structure. This test has proven its reliability and validity in both male and female inmates till date.


Aanchal Mohanty, 3rd September 2017



  6. Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402 (1960)





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