How reliable are eyewitness testimonies? Which tests can you use to detect malingers? You'll explore topics like this in the specialisation in Legal Psychology. This programme, the only one of its kind in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, includes courses on topics such as lie detection, eyewitness testimonies, interrogation techniques and false confessions. By combining theory with practical skills, you’ll be equipped with all the training you need to pursue a career in police investigation units, juvenile offenders’ institutions, child protective services and high-security forensic facilities.
Why this programme?
In the master’s specialisation Legal Psychology, you’ll learn how to apply principles from cognitive and – to a lesser extent – clinical psychology to issues in the legal system. Questions that are typical for Legal Psychology are: ‘How reliable are eyewitness testimonies?’ and ‘Do serious criminals have brain dysfunctions that make them permanently dangerous to society?’. Psychologists with a background in Legal Psychology ask questions that have direct relevance to the legal arena and conduct research to address these questions.
The specialisation in Legal Psychology is underpinned by two important elements: research and testing. The specialisation consists of five courses:
- Eyewitnesses and victims: provides you with insight into the psychology of eyewitnesses and victims.
- Perpetrators and defendants: examines different types of offenders and offending behaviour. You'll also learn to analyse these behaviours in the context of legal questions.
- Experts and their decisions: focuses on the role that experts play in judicial decision-making. You'll also explore the validity of expert opinions.
- Forensic neuropsychology: familiarises you with the assessment of neuropsychological disorders.
- Public policy in legal psychology: focuses on the basics of writing public policy in legal psychology.
The literature for these courses consists of various research papers taken from experimental, applied and forensic psychiatric journals. During the second semester, you'll complete a research internship and write your thesis.
Is it right for me?
Legal Psychology is a good fit if you're interested in studying:
- psychology and law from a cognitive perspective
- the psychology of eyewitnesses and victims
- how neuropsychological disorders affect criminology and ricidivism
- real examples of psychology and law in the Netherlands
English, but with Dutch examples
The theoretical part of the specialisation in Legal Psychology is taught in English. However, you should be aware that many examples and illustrations are drawn from the Dutch judicial system, such as the TBS system (the part of the penitentiary system responsible for mandatory psychiatric treatment on behalf of the state). You’ll also discuss important cases that have made an impact on the psychology and law field in the Netherlands. One important difference in the Netherlands is that legal decisions are made by judges rather than juries. In the practical part of this specialisation, you’ll also visit Dutch court hearings and forensic settings.
Participate in ongoing research
The themes of the Legal Psychology specialisation are closely linked to research of our staff. They include:
- lie detection
- eyewitness testimonies
- interrogation techniques
- vulnerable suspects
- false confessions
- forensic psychopathology
- violence risk assessment
- offender treatment
The close link between education and research offers you many opportunities to participate in ongoing research – both at Maastricht University or elsewhere, including abroad.
Internship & thesis
The research internship gives you the opportunity to participate in the ongoing research of the faculty’s academic staff or to work with external academic or clinical institutions. You will design and pursue your own research question, which will be the foundation of your master's thesis.
You can choose the subject of your research internship from a wide variety of topics that fit within your chosen specialisation. The internship can be done in the Netherlands or abroad.
Clinical internship (addition to standard programme)
You also have the option to do a clinical internship in addition to the normal programme, which will give you the clinical experience needed to meet the requirements for a professional clinical training programme in the Netherlands (obtainment of BAPD).
For your thesis, you could do something like:
- studying false confessions in the lab
- assessing the effectiveness of treatments in a TBS clinic
- experimental research on eyewitness identifications
Legal Psychology is taught using Problem-Based Learning (PBL). In small tutorial groups of up to 13 students, you'll seek solutions to ‘problems’ taken from real-world situations. Instructors act as facilitators, giving help as it’s needed. This allows you to build independence and develop problem-solving skills that you’ll need in the field. This active, dynamic and collaborative learning method has one of the highest knowledge retention rates of any instructional method.
From the first day of the programme, you’ll be challenged with differing viewpoints and experiences as you interact with staff and students from all over the world. Your preconceptions and worldview will be enhanced by this interaction, bringing you closer to the programme’s goal of teaching students not only facts and concepts but also international accessibility and understanding. Roughly 50% of the students in this master’s programme come from outside the Netherlands. Such diversity creates an international atmosphere that is strengthened by the international orientation of the programme.
Forensic master's programmes
Even though clinical forensic psychology is one of the topics of this master’s, it’s not the main focus. In this specialisation, you’ll primarily study the cognitive aspects of Legal Psychology. If forensics is your focus, Maastricht University offers two other master's programmes in forensic science that you may want to consider:
- Forensics, Criminology and Law (LLM) focuses on the relationship between criminal justice and the various forensic sciences
- Forensic Psychology (MSc) focuses on clinical psychology from a forensic perspective
See website www.maastrichtuniversity.nl/fpn/masters
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