Investigative Psychology: Definition and Meaning

For all true crime fans and other thrillers, the question has always been posed about how the offenders are convicted. What processes might underlie? How are they tagged as perpetrators? This branch of forensic psychology is practiced to conduct criminal prosecution, felon categorization, psychological evaluation of suspected criminals, and drug misuse therapy for assailants and testimonies in criminal cases. Investigative psychology can also be used in a court setting to analyze testimony and other types of evidence, suggest sentences, and identify violent behavior patterns

What is the Meaning of Investigative Psychology?

Investigative psychology differs significantly from other branches of psychology in a few key ways. Unlike private counselors and therapists, investigative psychologists often work with clients who did not request assistance and may be quite resistant to having psychoanalyzed. To ascertain whether a suspect is mentally sound or was when they committed a crime, it may be necessary to analyze them. Investigative psychology techniques can also identify false accusations, fake confessions, or fraudulent eyewitness testimony.


Detectives and other investigating participants make decisions. They must determine the potential courses of action based on the knowledge they can get. For instance, after a burglary, authorities may try to match fingerprints left at the scene with those of potential suspects. Making conclusions about the likely offender based on data gleaned from the fingerprint is fairly simple, implying that the suspect should be detained and interrogated.

The investigating process can be challenging to follow, however. Detectives might not have such concrete knowledge, but they might have a suspicion, for instance, that the burglary technique is characteristic of one of many criminals they have apprehended in the past. Alternatively, in a more complicated scenario like a murder, they might deduce from the chaos at the crime scene that the perpetrator was a burglar affected by the deed. These conclusions will either prompt them to look for additional information or to choose from a range of potential measures, such as the arrest and charge of a suspected suspect.

Investigative decision-making entails recognizing and selecting choices, such as potential suspects or lines of inquiry, that will ultimately result in the search process being narrowed down. Investigators must use some knowledge about the behaviors of the criminals involved in the crime they are investigating to develop possibilities and make choices from them. The effective policy of the material gathered requires a basic understanding of how typical criminals behave. They must gather the necessary proof during this procedure to pin the blame on the offender and win their court battle.

As a result, three processes are present in every inquiry that can be strengthened by psychological research. The first step is the gathering and assessment of data collected from witness testimonies of the crime. These testimonies might also contain images, audio, or video taken at the crime scene. Records of further transactions, such as payments of bills or phone conversations, may also exist. Frequently, someone will witness the crime or may have left behind evidence that can be investigated. Transcripts of interviews with various specialists or reports from them will be available.

Additionally, information from cops and other databases may be consulted to offer cues for action. After eliciting a suspect, more information about them may become available, either directly via interviews or implicitly via disclosures through others. Additionally, there can be data from different specialists that need to be comprehended and might prompt actions. Deductions regarding the significance of the existing knowledge must be drawn to conclude it. Thus, creating a foundation for those conclusions at the core of police investigations leads to the third set of tasks. It is vital to have, at the very minimum, subconsciously, representations of how different criminals behave to draw the proper conclusions from the descriptions of the crime that are accessible. These models enable the processing of crime reports to produce potential courses of action. In essence, this model-building and test method is an anecdote-based, informal approach known as "offender profiling" or "criminal profiling" that has been developed scientifically and psychologically.

Defining the Discipline

The field of investigative psychology (IP) provides a framework for incorporating a wide range of psychological concepts into both criminal and civil investigations. It is focused on every criminal activity that the police may investigate, including burglary and arson, murder, rape, and even terrorism. The discipline also encompasses activity areas that need investigation but might only sometimes fall under the purview of traditional police agencies. Investigative psychologists are increasingly studying crowd control and maintaining public order. The main issue is how criminal activity may be studied and comprehended to identify crimes and conduct appropriate judicial processes effectively. Investigative psychology is thus concerned with the psychological perspective on the entire spectrum of issues about the administration, investigation, and prosecution of crime.

Most people are familiar with and understand the accomplishments psychologists can offer to criminal probes regarding "offender profiles." Offender profiling, as it is generally used, is the method by which individuals develop conclusions about the personal qualities or psychodynamics of criminals based on their clinical and other industry experience. The ten categories of operational questions that authorities encounter during their work are increasingly being addressed by investigative psychology.

Salience: What are the most important elements of a crime?

A crime can have so many events of seeming relevance that it is sometimes unclear to the investigator which aspects of the crime should receive special attention. These characteristics may aid detectives in better comprehending the incident and its circumstances and may usefully identify the kind of person who might have perpetrated the infractions.

Beware of Elicitation: What investigations into police files or other data sources should be made to assist in identifying the offender?

This inquiry concerns the most likely characteristics of perpetrators. This can make it possible to conduct searches in specific locations or databases, invite the public to provide information, or use informants. A better comprehension of the act and the kind of persons who commit it can be used in all these processes.

Suspicion Order. Which potential suspect has the greatest chance of being the real culprit?

Police can identify between a specific crime's perpetrator and other known offenders using the offender's traits and prior behavioral patterns, as determined from the analysis of the crime. In terms of operations, this leads to issues like which individuals should be selected from cops or other registries for the most likely extensive examination.

Location of the Offender. Where is the criminal's most likely base of operations?

Ideas regarding the expected residence of an offender can influence an operation. The investigation, as well as the use of police resources and personnel. The operational value of knowing the geographic distribution of a criminal's actions and how this links to his or her base of operations is enormous.

Connecting Crimes. Which offenses were likely perpetrated by the same offender(s)?

For police investigations, there are several benefits to connecting crimes to a common perpetrator or offender. Such linking necessitates identifying the characteristics of each offender that are internally consistent enough from one incident to the following to imply that a single person committed the crimes. If most burglars use a forced entry, it is improbable that two burglaries carried out by the exact individual who also used forced entry will be connected. Of course, burglars' methods can be utilized to link their crimes if they are as distinctive to them as a signature. However, it is uncommon for perpetrators to display such "signatures continuously." As a result, salience issues in the offender's acts are raised to a new level when the linkage is considered. It is important to investigate how important the action is in identifying one offender from another and how important it is in identifying one infraction from another.

Prediction. When, where, and how will the criminal commit his or her subsequent crime?

Predicting how and when the following crime will happen becomes a crucial operational problem when the officers look into a string of crimes. Operational relevance also comes from the likelihood of the crime's severity, such as whether the level of aggression is expected to rise or if a distinct crime is likely.

Investigation-based Judgement. How may the investigation process be made better?

Understanding the cognitive and interpersonal processes at play can impact the actual mechanics of how inquiries are structured and the decision-making processes. This follows the development of decision assistance tools and their consideration as the best ones.

Information Gathering. How might information gathering for an inquiry be made more efficient?

A comprehension of the cognitive and social mechanisms involved in these operations, as well as the data business acumen that is a component of a psychologist's training, can all benefit from the conducting interviews of suspects, witnesses, and victims, as well as the exploitation of knowledge from other internal and external sources.

Information Evaluation. How can the newly accessible information be evaluated?

Detecting dishonesty is the most evident field of psychological investigation in this case. However, other elements of the authenticity and reliability of the information gathered are subject to systematic review and improvement, especially when using psychometric tools.

Assembling a Defence. What interpretation of the crime will help to structure the legal case?

The prosecution and the defense in court implicitly use popular theories and models of human behavior to support their arguments. Legal cases can be structured according to formal psychological ideas, and doing so will occasionally result in stronger arguments


On two different levels, psychology can influence these criminal operations. Most importantly, investigative psychologists can offer solid information based on empirical research, and these researchers can increasingly offer clear solutions. Second, investigative psychology can offer a framework for comprehending the procedures police must follow in their quest for solutions. Psychologists can make suggestions for improvement by conceptualizing these processes in simple terms.

Updated on: 21-Dec-2022


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