Munsterberg's Forensic Psychology
Dr. Munsterberg wrote several papers on the application of psychological information in legal situations, otherwise known as, forensic psychology. The main objective in most of these articles was eyewitness testimony. This area of psychology examines the mind of the witness. Munsterberg looked at illusions, memory of the witness, and ways to prevent the crime. When working with illusions, Munsterberg showed how differently humans view or arrange events. For example, when viewing pictures made of dots, paticipants would look at the pictures for a period of time and then would be asked to write down what they saw. Munsterberg found that each picture was interpreted differently by each subject.
After he found this result, he turned to the memory of the witness. In this area of work, Dr. Munsterberg demonstrated events in his own life that affected his ability to recall aspects of an event. A specific example of this phenomenon was the event of a burglary at his home. He found that his own interests, experiences, and biases were a major factor in his recollection of specific events. The example of the burglary was written about in his book On the Witness Stand. A summary is as follows: The basement door was broken into, candle wax was on the attic door, and a mantle clock wrapped in a table cloth lay on the table. When in court, Munsterberg found that all of this information that he had described was wrong on all accounts. Munsterberg stated that the burglars had entered through a basement window, that the clock was packed and wrapped with wrapping paper, and that the wax was on the second floor. During re-examination, Munsterberg noticed the clock, but the impression of it wrapped in a table cloth was not important. He also could visualize the wax on the floor, but he did not visit his attic regularly, so no association was made. To read more about Eyewitness Testimony, click here.
In another section of On the Witness Stand, Munsterberg wrote about people who confessed to have committed a crime, but really had not. He looked at situations in which these untrue confessions were likely to occur. Munsterberg found that with intense interrogation of those who have a strong need to please and that with those who have a need to comply with powerful authority, untrue confessions were likely to arise. He also found that these same results occurred with deeply depressed individuals who feel a need for punishment.