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Forensic psychology: crime, offenders and policing

Why do people commit certain types of crime? How should we deal with offenders? Why would someone confess to a crime they did not commit? Can we detect lies told by suspects? Can profiling assist criminal investigations? This course explores these questions and other important issues in the psychology of crime, offenders and policing. You will develop skills in independent literature research and professional academic writing.


Start End Fee
- - -

No current presentation - see Future availability

This module is expected to start for the last time in May 2014.

What you will study

Psychology has a long history of informing and being informed by criminal and civil justice systems. This relationship is variously known as forensic psychology (the preferred term in the UK), criminological psychology, legal psychology, or simply psychology and law. In general terms forensic psychology involves the application of psychological knowledge to issues and problems arising in legal contexts. In order to do so effectively, forensic psychology draws widely from other areas and specialisms within psychology, including clinical psychology, cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, neuropsychology and social psychology. Forensic psychology also draws on related disciplines such as criminology and psychiatry, and is methodologically eclectic, with data coming from both quantitative (e.g. experiments, surveys) and qualitative (e.g. discourse analysis) research methods. Forensic psychology: crime, offenders and policing (D872) focuses on the psychology of criminal offending and offenders, and how psychology has been applied to real-world policing. (Our partner course Forensic psychology: witnesses, experts and evidence on trial (D873) focuses on legal and courtroom issues, and may also be of interest.)

Please note that this course deals with issues of crime and criminal offenders, some of which may be quite sensitive or personally affecting for some students. The course covers crimes of violence, including murder and domestic violence, sexual offending against children and adults, with a focus on understanding the psychology of offenders, the psychology of terrorism, and relationships between mental health and crime. If you feel that you are likely to be personally affected by any of these issues, you may wish to consider whether this course is appropriate for you to study.

You will learn

The course topics are organised into three blocks. Block 1 looks at theories of crime and explanations for offending behaviours, including crimes committed by young offenders, the role of mental illness and criminal psychopathy. Block 2 considers the psychology of specific types of crime, focusing on violent offences and offenders, including domestic, sexual and political violence. Block 3 shifts the focus to how psychology has been applied to police investigations of crimes, exploring offender profiling, the psychology of police interviewing, suspects’ confessions and lie detection.

The course takes a guided learning approach, based around two course books and a substantial amount of independent learning. You will be reading material from a variety of leading authors in the field, with the aid of a specially prepared online study guide. Course Book 1 is a custom-published version of Dennis Howitt’s Introduction to Forensic and Criminal Psychology (3rd Edition) produced specially for this course, including additional material written specifically for D872. This book provides week-by-week introductions to the course topics at a level suitable for both psychology students (with or without any prior knowledge of forensic psychology) and students from other disciplines, such as criminology. Course Book 2 takes the form of a reader, consisting of published research and review articles illustrating specific aspects of each topic. These articles have been carefully selected to develop your knowledge and understanding of particular legal and psychological contexts, research methods, legal, practical and ethical issues, and implications for both theory and practice. You will build upon this core material with independent learning, using The Open University’s extensive online library resources to conduct literature-based research into the course topics. There will also be a number of resources provided via the course website to support your learning and skills development. The website resources include audio material, learning activities, a discussion forum and a glossary of technical terms.

The assessment on this course has a strongly applied focus, and aims to develop and test your transferable skills as well as your subject knowledge. You will apply both theoretical and empirical knowledge from published psychological sources to realistic (albeit hypothetical) scenarios relevant to real-world contexts in forensic psychology (Note: you will not be required to conduct empirical research yourself as part of this course). You will develop your skills of literature searching, summarising a range of sources and critically evaluating psychological theory and research. You will present your work in a variety of styles including essay and report formats suitable for different audiences, such as academic and non-academic professional bodies.

Vocational relevance

You will develop skills in accessing and evaluating psychological knowledge and communicating that knowledge to academic and non-academic professional audiences. These skills are highly important in both academic and applied psychology careers, as well as being relevant in many other professional domains.


The minimum entry requirement is a recognised UK honours degree or its equivalent.

Although the honours degree can be in any subject, you are unlikely to be prepared for this course if you have not had a prior academic grounding in the social sciences or psychology. This is because your postgraduate studies will assume you are familiar with social scientific or psychological language and concepts, and the characteristic ways in which social scientists and psychologists construct arguments, use theory and handle evidence. In consequence, if you do not have an honours degree that includes a substantial amount of social scientific or psychological content, we would strongly advise you to consider studying at least one Open University third level undergraduate social sciences or psychology course before you embark on postgraduate study.

Before you start your postgraduate studies it is expected that you will have the ability to:

  • write accurately, clearly and concisely
  • read large quantities of text quickly, accurately and critically
  • classify evidence precisely, and assess its value and reliability
  • argue logically, consistently and sceptically
  • marshal evidence to support a logical argument.

All our postgraduate courses are taught in English, so your spoken and written English must be of an appropriate standard for postgraduate study. If you’re not sure whether your English skills are good enough, there is some help and guidance on our website.

Before taking this course, it is expected that you will have already studied the postgraduate foundation course for the qualification you are studying towards, one of D821, D822 or D820 (all now discontinued). Please refer to the relevant qualification description.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the course, or whether your subject knowledge and study skills are adequate for study at this level, please contact the Learner Support Team, Postgraduate Studies in Social Sciences (telephone +44 (0)113 234 1225, or email).

Preparatory work

The D872 website will offer preparatory reading in relevant psychology, research methods topics and academic literature skills, aimed at students without a background in these (or who wish to ‘brush up’ or revise). This material will be available to registered students before the official start date of the course, as well as throughout the teaching weeks.


If you are planning on studying towards any of these qualifications, please carefully check the descriptions of the qualifications you are considering to ensure that you have sufficient time to complete your studies, as our psychology and social sciences qualifications are now only available for a limited time.

D872 is an optional module in our:

Some postgraduate qualifications allow study to be chosen from other subject areas. We advise you to refer to the relevant qualification descriptions for information on the circumstances in which this module can count towards these qualifications because from time to time the structure and requirements may change.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

If you have a disability

Written transcripts of any audio components and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader. Alternative formats of the study materials may be available in the future. Our Services for disabled students website has the latest information about availability.

You can also find information about accessible study materials, the Disabled Students' Allowance, equipment and other services on our Services for disabled students website. It also includes our contact details for advice and support both before you register and while you are studying.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.

Study materials

What's included

Course books and online study materials.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material, help you to prepare for your assessed work, and mark and comment on your assignments, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. Tutor support will be provided online through the course website.

Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details can be found in the facts box above.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

Future availability

The details given here are for the course that starts in May 2014 when it will be available for the last time.

How to register

We regret that we are currently unable to accept registrations for this course. Where the course is to be presented again in the future, relevant registration information will be displayed on this page as soon as it becomes available.

Distance learning

The Open University is the world's leading provider of flexible, high quality distance learning. Unlike other universities we are not campus based. You will study in a flexible way that works for you whether you're at home, at work or on the move. As an OU student you'll be supported throughout your studies - your tutor or study adviser will guide and advise you, offer detailed feedback on your assignments, and help with any study issues. Tuition might be in face-to-face groups, via online tutorials, or by phone.

For more information about distance learning at the OU read Study explained.

Course facts
About this course:
Course code D872
Credits 30
OU Level Postgraduate
SCQF level 11
FHEQ level 7
Course work includes:
2 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
No residential school

Student Reviews

“Very good course all round. However, the workload can be very demanding and I found it was very difficult getting...”
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“Having previously completed the sister course D873, this was my last module towards an MA in Social Sciences. Another fascinating...”
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