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Reconstruction of the history of law and psychology research as applied psychology
"Reconstruction of the History of Law and Psychology Research as Applied Psychology"

Writer: WAKABAYASHI, Kosuke (College of Letters, Professor)   terms: 2015 5

The reconstructionality of history and a new history of psychology

 When it comes to the central trends of psychology since its establishment in the modern era, currently the most broadly supported fundamental understanding is that they are experimental psychological development centered on scientific positivist psychology and historical development centered on clinical psychology, one of the pillars of which is psychoanalysis. Looking at the act of “history” from the perspective of a social/human act, it is evident that these trends are constructed and understood from the perspective of contemporary psychologists. As a result, premised on this reconstructionality of history, this project proposes a history of applied psychology - a history of socially practical psychological approaches - as a new historical understanding of psychology. More specifically, this research project seeks in particular to construct a history of forensic psychology as a field applied and developed in the real situation of “the criminal justice and citizen trial”

Historical connection between the history of law and psychology’s past

 Pioneer of psychological research on memory H. Ebbinghaus (1850-1909) said, “the history of psychology is short, its past is long”. Modern psychology was born at the end of the 19th century, but the human search that is its object has been undertaken since ancient times. That said, both the concept of “law” and the discipline dedicated to its study, “jurisprudence”, can perhaps be said to be a domain of inquiry with a past equal to that of psychology, or indeed an even longer history. Furthermore, jurisprudence, within its study of practical acts to establish laws and regulate human beings, incorporates each succeeding era’s tacit views concerning “what sort of entity is a human being?” In this sense, in places the tracks of jurisprudence can be said to overlap those of psychology’s past. In any case, the application of psychology within jurisprudence in accordance with the birth/establishment of modern psychology did not occur until W. Wundt (1832-1920) opened his psychology laboratory in Germany in 1879.

The development of law and psychology

J. M. Cattel (1860-1944)A. Binnet (1857-1911)L. W. Stern (1871-1938)
 The application of psychology to the administration of justice began with the work of the generation of psychologists that included Wendt’s disciples. The first research on forensic psychology was a “witness memory” experiment (Cattell, 1895) published in the journal Science in 1895 by J.M. Cattell(1860-1944), the first American to obtain his doctorate under Wundt. This research quantitatively confirmed the inaccuracy of our “everyday memories”. In France a few years later, A. Binet (1857-1911), known for his work in the development of intelligence tests, confirmed on the basis of “suggestibility” research that the testimony of children is easily influenced by the suggestions of others (Binet 1900). And in Germany in 1901 L.W. Stern (1871-1938), a disciple of Ebbinghaus, worked with criminal law scholar F. v. Liszt (1851-1919) to conduct performance experiments on witness testimony. This was the first collaboration between a legal scholar and a psychologist. All three of these psychologists also conducted research on intelligence. In other words, the question of how accurately a person can relate his or her memories is connected to intelligence, and also to the accuracy of testimony used as evidence in courts of law. Psychology was thus, mainly in Europe, producing content concerning the administration of justice soon after modern psychology was established.


  • Cattell, J.M. (1895). Measurements of the accuracy of recollection. Science, 2, 761-766.
  • Binet, A. (1900). La Suggestibilité Paris: Schleicher

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