Criminal Psychology and Investigations

You might envision a psychologist as a therapist whose job is to resolve psychological conflicts but criminal psychology is a different and exciting branch.
Criminal Psychology and Investigations

Last update: 10 May, 2020

When you think about psychology and how it applies to criminal investigations, you’re actually thinking about the set of disciplines that comprise criminal psychology. This branch of psychology includes areas such as victimology, crime scene analysis, and criminodynamics.

This science has a wide range of procedures, such as psychological autopsy, profiling, and operational analysis of cases, among others. The areas of development of criminal psychology are many, which is why it’s an important tool in a criminal investigation.

Analysis of the crime scene, modus operandi, and psychological evaluations

One of the many functions of a criminal psychologist is to accompany the police investigator during their interviews with the victims, witnesses, and suspects of a crime. They do it to assess the interviewee’s mental state and the possible psychopathological factors they may present.

Similarly, the psychology applied to a criminal investigation provides an interpretative analysis of the crime scene and of the criminal’s modus operandi or signature. The latter refers to the behavioral pattern of the perpetrator. Also, of their predictability, since it’s a behavior with a tendency to change if it’s repetitive.

Criminal psychologists also perform reconstructive or retrospective psychological evaluations. These evaluations combine forensic knowledge with clinical mental health analysis. Its main goal is the creation of psychological autopsies and analysis of mistaken deaths. They’re particularly useful in drawing criminal profiles.

A person questioning another.


Criminal profiling is a technique that attempts to predict human behavior in relation to crime. For example, the analysis and interpretation of evidence found at a crime scene or in the modus operandi may point to a criminal’s personality type or help rule out others.

One can usually trace it in four stages:

  • Stage 1. This is where they obtain information. The more sources of information, the more accurate the profile will be. They do so through testimonies, inspections, and police reports, among other evidence. Also, they collect forensic information, cause of death, pre and post mortem injuries, sexual activity, and toxicological analyses.
  • Stage 2. They classify the crime with all the information related to the case based on police and investigative manuals. In addition, they take into account variables such as risk to the aggressor, duration of the crime, and previous attempts.
  • Stage 3. During this stage, they reconstruct the crime and make the first hypotheses of what happened. They define the modus operandi from this phase. Also, the creation of the geographical profile is important here. The elements they analyze in this stage are many. For example, the randomness of the selection of the victim, the control exercised over them, the staging, and the type of crime (organized or disorganized). This last data provides decisive information for the tracing of the personality type.
  • Stage 4. It consists of the criminal profile, which must include physical appearance, origin, and the socio-cultural environment in which they operate. Also, their academic or professional level, intellectual abilities, and physical abilities. In addition, it describes the offender’s habits and their -pre and -post crime behavior. In this stage, they share the recommendations the researchers should follow.

Criminal psychology and investigations

Criminal profiles are drawn based on evidence. One of the most significant is related to any postmortem injuries that are compatible with possible torture, sadism, or rituals. Furthermore, geographical parameters and the link with other cases are highly taken into account in this type of investigation.

To complement this fieldwork, there are complex algorithms, such as the one by Duke University. It uses Bayesian networks. These programs provide very valuable profiling information, leaving little margin for error.

You might believe that psychologists are only therapists, people who try to resolve psychological conflicts or who can help develop skills that make their patients’ lives more adaptive and, ultimately, happier. However, criminal psychology is a different branch of psychology.

Psychology applied to criminal investigation is one of the most exciting areas of psychology where the professionals of the sector can apply their knowledge for the common and indirect benefit of many people. This is a science that continues to evolve. In fact, it doesn’t only require technical knowledge but also a lot of intuition.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.