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Forensic Media Psychology and a Camera in Every Pocket!

FMP is fueled by a cultural reset as a professional specialty in psychology.

Luskin's Learning Psychology Series - Insight No. 17

Forensic Media Psychology (FMP) is growing as a sub-specialty in psychology. Present applications include law, public policy, government, health care, entertainment, education, commerce, the military, social justice, and more. Forensic media analysis identifies and explains facts, behavior and situations in media, record keeping, intellectual property, entertainment, and social situations.

Media Psychology
Source: Media Psychology

Forensic Media Psychology (FMP). Historically, forensic psychology has principally been defined as addressing issues related to law and the legal system. In fact, the word "forensic" comes from the Latin word "forensis," meaning "of the forum," where the law courts of ancient Rome were held. Today, forensic refers to the many scientific and behavioral principles and practices applied to fact finding, analysis, and explanations of situations and events. The addition of psychology examines the further complexities of human behavior. Forensic media psychology, an extension of forensic psychology, is emerging at the crossroads of the news and entertainment media’s fascination with the “intersection” of psychology, intellectual property, production values, globalization, and law (Vitriol, 2008). The explosion of social media is amplifying the need to significanntly advance forensic media psychology. The behavioral implications discovered through FMP are influential in determining the impact of new media-based phenomena such as cyber-terrorism, cyber-bullying, theft of intellectual property from music to video and text, and all forms in between. These components are dynamic areas offering growing 21st century professional opportunity. Tele-psychology across state lines, video therapy, and teaching and learning in virtual environments only begin to touch upon the large number of potential applications. The scope of forensic media psychology will continue to reveal itself through the dicisions in the legal system fueled by battles for rights, ownership, money, and justice. Forensic media psychology will become increasingly familiar and understood as a power tool for analyzing news and world events. The list of relevant applications is long and this short article can only offer examples. The Terminator’s computerized eye is an early example of a robot totally driven by quantitative methods and technology as an example of robotics in forensic media psychology. Recent shootings caught on camera bring new understanding, proof and ways of validating events into being.

Media literacy is changing. Forensic media psychology is founded in the ability to do research and analyze an infinite variety of situations in a world saturated by media. Through the use of systematic research and observation, psychological researchers strive to understand the suppositions that provoke informed behavior, uninformed bias or belief systems and the ways perceptions may be altered (T. T. Luskin, Luskin, B.J., 1998). Forensic media psychology involves research on public policy, social psychology, criminal behavior, crime investigation, interrogation, courtroom procedures, jury selection, corrections, and mental health law, as a few examples within broader categories of inquiry and FMP application (Wortzel, 2013). My point is that civil and criminal litigation are drivers that will continually refine this specialty.

Social Media
Source: Social Media

Memory manipulation through media influences is growing. We now know that the mind often struggles to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. While a picture may once have been worth a thousand words, we now know we can influence and alter human perception with all manner of media illusions (Hsu, April 3, 2012). Faulty eyewitness memory and controversial jury decision-making in civil and criminal litigation are in the news and the subject of frequent debate these days. Heightened public awareness has brought conflict and controversy to trial outcomes in case after case in recent years. Sensationalism in news reportage today, the increasing use of body cams and proliferation of uploadable cellphone videos and the blurring delineation between news and entertainment are riveting the viewer attention that translates to audience share in the entertainment media. What is real and what is fabricated brings a whole new body of research opportunity to those interested in forensic media psychology. Understanding the difference between the brain and the mind, and the nature of behavior manipulation is a growing area of major interest. The MRI is one 21st century phenomenon that is accelerating understanding. I will clarify with a more detailed explanation in a future article titled, Mind Your Brain; they are different. In creating perception, some images are transmitted through the eye, others retrieved from memory. There are many tricks that can blend and alter perception through various types of manipulation. Think about it.

How the mind works. Now that we are beginning to understand the mind more fully, we know that memories are highly susceptible to variation, alteration and vulnerable to many sources of influence that can lead to altered perceptions (Loftus, 2003). In litigation, the dependency on accurate memories not only includes the risk of distorted recollections leading to wrongful conviction, but may be intentionally used for good or evil purposes by those interested in creating or managing perception, or deception, as the case may reveal.

The emergence of FMP. Courtroom and juror decision-making is an essential component of courtroom procedures and, of course, to good courtroom dramas. Ideally, trials allow a verdict to be decided by a group of peers and culminate in an objective decision wherein justice is decided. Psychological researchers seek to understand how verdicts are influenced by the subjective interpretation of facts, group dynamics, societal influences including the pervasiveness of media, and by other dimensions of inquiry that occur before a trial or during juror selection, courtroom procedures, and jury deliberations (Levett, 2005). My point is simply to posit that FMP will be advanced through the legal system and also through entertainment.

Source: Investigation

The detection of deception is key to success in a legal forensic setting. But detection procedures, such as polygraph testing, combine both quantitative measurement and behavioral interpretation (Granhag, 2015). Deliberate manipulation and tactical deception are interesting manifestations of individual motivation, reserved exclusively for human interaction (Spence et al. 2004). Successful deception depends on a convincing presentation and the control over behavioral cues. Some behavioral cues, such as perspiration and body language, not only “betray a lie but a misconstrued statement of honesty as well” (Spencer et al., 2004). The potential for ambiguity requires new approaches to more accurately detect and present validation of deception.

Examples of situations depicting forensic media psychology:

1. Storytelling, i.e., film and television

2. Simulations for medical teaching and learning

3. Simulations in military actions and tactics

4. Characterizations in plastic surgery

5. Mass media influence and alteration of political opinion and election outcomes through instilling specific societal beliefs. An exaggerated example of this was depicted in the 1997 film, Wag the Dog, a black comedy in which public perceptions, understanding and behaviors were dramatically altered by mass media manipulation.

6. Radicalizing susceptible individuals to embrace specific belief systems.

7. Settling intellectual property disputes through forensic analysis of media assets.

8. Situational revelations from bystander cell phones capturing traumatic events.

Forensic media psychology has a theoretical framework. Understanding theories in psychology is fundamental in understanding the behavior of society and individuals. Examples of theories that must be understood and then combined for greater overall understanding include believability, attention, perception, psychovisualization as examples.

It is important to have a thorough grasp of (1) semantics and the many ways language may be applied, (2) semiotics including the study, use and application of symbols and (3) synesthetics, that embraces sensory psychology (Luskin, 2002).

My teaching and program development experience with forensic media psychology as an area of concentration or specialty to be used within any field, requires a minimum of three core courses to demonstrate basic competency: (1) an overview: Theories and Concepts in Psychology Applied to Media, (2) a depth focus: Theories of Special Interest and (3) an applied project: the Selection and Application of Appropriate Methodologies in Forensic Media Psychology applied to a specific situation.

Professional areas where the application of FMC offers employment opportunity include litigation, media production such as film, television, social media, communication technology (smart phones) audio and print products, public policy and government, commerce (including sales, marketing, product design), health care, simulations for teaching, learning and the military (B. Luskin, L. Friedland., 1998). Future criminal and civil litigation will define and refine diverse uses. It is time for law schools, schools of television, media and cinema, business schools and schools of public policy to offer courses and concentrations in FMP. A great deal of research is obviously needed. My hope is that this article succeeds in heightening awareness of that need. In a world going through a cultural reset, fueled by the revalations from citizen video revealed by a phone in every pocket and a camera in every cellphone; Forensic Media Psychology is a specialty whose time is here.


Dr. Bernard Luskin, LMFT is president emeritus of the Society for Media Psychology and Technology of the American Psychological Association. He has been CEO of seven colleges and universities and is also former CEO of Philips Interactive Media, Jones Education Networks, including Mind Extension University. Luskin has received numerous recognitions for contributions to psychhology, media and education, including lifetime achievement awards from the UCLA Doctoral Alumni Association, American Psychological Association and European Commission.

Special thanks to Dr. Toni Luskin for her assistance in editing and to Susana Bojorquez, M.A., for her assistance in posting this article.

Book List

Granhag, P. A., Vrij, A., Verschuere, B. (2015). Detecting Deception: Current Challenges and Cognitive Approaches (1st ed.): Wiley.

Hsu, J. (April 3, 2012). Why "Uncanny Valley" Human Look-Alikes Put Us on Edge. Innovation News Daily. Retrieved from…

Levett, L., Danielsen, E., Kovera, M.B., & Cutler, B.L. . (2005). Juror Decision MakingNew York: Guilford.

Loftus, E. (2003). Our changeable memories:legal and practical implications. [Neuroscience]. Science and Society, 4, 231-234.

Luskin, B. J. (2002). Casting the Net Over Global Learning (1 ed. Vol. 1). Los Angeles: Griffin.

Luskin, B. J. Friedland., L. (1998). Division 46 Taskforce Study of New Career Opportunities in the Emerging Field of Media Psychology (46, Trans.) (1 ed., Vol. 1, pp. 101). Los Angeles: American Psychological Association.

Luskin, T. T., Luskin, B.J. (1998). Media, Psychology and the Socio-Psychomedia Effect (1st ed. Vol. 51). Chicago: International Engineering Consortium.

Vitriol, J. (2008). The Reality of Forensic Psychology. Observer, 21(3). Retrieved from

Wortzel, H. S., Arciniegas,D.B. (2013). A Forensic Neuropsychiatric Approach to Traumatic Brain Injury, Aggression, and Suicide. [Medical: Neuro Science ]. J Am Acad Psychiatry Law 2013, 41(2), 274-286.