Neuropsychology is a science focused on how brain function relates to behavior. Forensic neuropsychology revolves around the relationship between brain disorders and injuries and criminal behavior. Neuropsychologists are clinical psychologists at the doctorate level who have specialized training in brain-behavior relationships and psychological and cognitive assessment.
Brain Dysfunction and Behavior
Brain injuries, chemical imbalances and congenital brain structure can all impact behavior. In many criminal cases, neurological systems impact cognition and behavior. In his book “The Psychopathic Mind,” James Meloy discusses the biochemical theory of aggression, saying that some neurotransmitters in the brain “correlate in a distinctive manner with behavioral displays of predatory aggression.” One role of the forensic neuropsychologist is to help quantify and define these types of relationships between brain function and behavior.
Forensic neuropsychologists rely heavily on assessment techniques to better understand the reasons underlying criminal behavior. A typical forensic neuropsychology battery typically consists of intelligence testing, psychological testing, tests of executive functioning and tests of malingering. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines malingering as when a person creates symptoms for secondary gain. This may occur in criminal cases where defendants hope to use mental illness a justification for their actions.
In addition to assessment and diagnosis, forensic neuropsychologists are also involved in treatment planning. Rehabilitation after crime remains an important aspect of psychological care. Forensic neuropsychologists use what they have learned in the assessment of the individual to tailor a treatment plan that takes into account unique psychological and cognitive variables in order to ensure the best possible prognosis.
• “The Psychopathic Mind”; James Meloy; 1998.
• “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision”; American Psychiatric Association; 2000.
• “Handbook of Psychological Assessment;” Gary Groth-Marnat; 2003.