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Learning and the criminal mind

05 Nov 2014

How our Learning Through Research programme enhances their learning experience and improves their employability

Dr Lee Wickham

It has never been about CSI or ‘Cracker’….and forensic psychology students are now hammering that message home by creating their own myth-busting posters.

From day one, the School of Psychological Sciences’ undergraduates use research tools; collecting and analysing data to further our knowledge on a wide range of topics.

Today, thanks to the University’s ‘Learning Through Research’ programme, Year 2 students are facing a new challenge – how to put complex issues in lay person’s language and promote their work to the wider world.

The Learning Through Research programme sees undergraduate students taught about their subject by looking at – or even doing – research. This not only enhances our students’ learning experience, it will improve their employability by increasing the scope of their studies and skills base.

“We’re closing the final bit of the loop,” says Dr Lee Wickham, Programme Director for the BSc in Psychology.

“Some universities simply teach students how to replicate phenomena, testing existing research, but Manchester has always wanted its students to take the next step.

“They don’t just access current literature; they learn to think critically about how they can extend knowledge by finding the next new questions to ask.

“The posters then test their ability to explain the answers in simple terms to the general public. It’s about developing skills that can be used in any workplace to improve their employability.”

So far most posters have focused on destroying misconceptions about the subject – particularly on lie-detectors and criminal profiling.

“People think it’s CSI and Cracker,” says Dr Wickham. “The problem is those misconceptions have come up through the criminal justice system; the belief that you can look at a crime scene and write a profile for the culprit; that you can tell someone is lying if they scratch their nose.

“There is no scientific basis for any of that.”

While the FBI uses the polygraph – or lie detector – on the strength of mere anecdotal evidence, UK policing takes a more statistical line, drawing on the advice of psychology professionals.

The turning point came in the wake of the Wimbledon Common murder of Rachel Nickell, 23, in 1992. The police set a ‘honey trap’ for prime suspect Colin Stagg – who was wrongly arrested and eventually acquitted before the real killer was brought to justice, having killed again.

“Sometimes flawed information doesn’t just not help, it can be extremely damaging,” says Dr Wickham.

The A1 designs have already been exhibited in the School and at University Open Days. The next step is to show them on the web.

Dr Wickham is impressed: “Our students have real creative flair.”