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What is the difference between criminology and forensic psychology?

Updated April 17, 2017

Criminology is the study of criminal behaviour, including the causes, nature and control of such behaviour. Forensic psychology is the use of psychology in the justice system. Criminology focuses solely on criminals, while forensic psychology is used in both civil and criminal courts and is not limited to criminals.

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Criminology deals with research of the incidence, cause, form and consequences of a crime. Criminologists also deal with social and governmental reactions to crimes. Forensic psychology, in addition to being used in criminal cases, is also used in civil cases. Forensic psychologists can help judges make a decision in custody cases, they can counsel victims and they can even advise on jury selection.


A court will often use a forensic psychologist to assess the mental state of an accused criminal at the time of the crime. Criminology, on the other hand, is used more generally, in order to analyse why certain crimes are committed.


Criminologists must have an understanding of both psychology and the criminal world. Forensic psychologists must have an understanding of psychology as well as the justice system.


Hugo Munsterberg is known as the first forensic psychologist. He wrote a book on the subject, "On the Witness Box," in 1908. Cesare Beccaria is the father of criminology. He published a book titled "On Crimes and Punishments" in 1764.


Forensic psychologists can work in many branches of psychology, including social, developmental and cognitive. Criminologists often work as police officers or other law enforcement officers, consultants or researchers.

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About the Author

Alan Bass has been writing since 2008. His work focusing on sports topics has appeared in the "Hockey News" and online at Inside Hockey and HockeyBuzz. He received a presidential award from Muhlenberg College for academic and community achievements, in addition to a bachelor's degree in psychology and business. In 2011, he published a book titled "The Great Expansion: The Ultimate Risk That Changed the NHL Forever."

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