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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Should I Recommend Criminal Profiling as a Career for My Undergraduate Psychology Majors?


For most of my career, students in my classes always asked me about becoming a clinical or counseling psychologist, what was needed to be admitted into those graduate programs, and so forth.  (Rarely did they ask about my field of social psychology!)  However, in the last few years, more students have told me that they want information on becoming a criminal profiler.  

As Troy W. Ertelt and Kristin E. Matson note in their review of Curt R. Bartol and Anne M. Bartol's Criminal and Behavioral Profiling: Theory, Research, and Practice, many people have an inaccurate perception of profilers. I sometimes think that my students who have watched films and television shows like Criminal Minds think that profilers have their own jet aircraft, look like Paget Brewster and Shemar Moore, and have an encyclopedic knowledge of psychology to help them quickly and accurately profile and catch criminals. In some ways, even news programs that interview profilers for crime stories perpetuate these inaccurate perceptions.

So, given the Bartol and Bartol book, and the Ertelt and Matson review, what should we tell students?  What is the best way to correct their misconceptions? Should we discourage them from becoming profilers?

Read the Review
ReviewFishing the Science Out of the Hype in Criminal and Behavioral Profiling
By Troy W. Ertelt and Kristin E. Matson
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(26)


Patricia Saunders

I studied with Gabrielle Salfati at John Jay college of Criminal Justice -Cantor's protege-Behavioral Profiling is only empirically based real-world research that has predictive value-rsch shows old model no better than chance and not valid.TV programs support myth. Real stuff looks
at crime scene behaviors in sophisticated research model and is powerful.BTW-Salfati brilliant teacher.

Sheri McCurdy-Lightbound

When I was an undergrad, my roommate told me that I should become a profiler. Based on seeing the film Manhunter I said, "No way." You could tell students to watch the television series Hannibal (also based on the novel Red Dragon by Thomas Harris) just to scare them away, though I do not think that it gives an accurate depiction of real world profiling either. In The Blacklist, new FBI profiler Elizabeth Keen never seems to do any profiling and is always quite a few steps behind the criminal Reddington. This may be a slightly more realistic view of the profiler job than that in Criminal Minds, but maybe not.

Based on the Ertelt and Matson review, I would say your best bet is to refer them to the book by Bartol and Bartol for an "empirically supported account of both the benefits and the concerns of profiling." Also, remind them that it generally takes more than a couple of days to solve a crime.

Jessica Yi

Criminal Profiler Degrees and Careers

Criminal profiling is an investigative profession used to assist law enforcement and government agencies pursuing unknown perpetrators. Criminal Profilers typically have a background in forensic and/or investigative psychology, giving them the skills needed to recognize the personality traits and characteristics of criminals based on crime scene evidence.
Additional background in relevant subgenres of psychology also helps criminal profilers understand the complex facets of human behavior in relation to crime and the legal system. Criminal profilers commonly work for local, state or federal law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Additionally, there are criminal profilers that work independent of such agencies and provide their services upon request to lawyers, police departments and government agencies such as the FBI or National Security Administration (NSA).
The job of a criminal profiler falls somewhere between the fields of law enforcement and psychology, often depicted in popular television shows and Hollywood movies. Also known as: "criminal investigative analysis" to "crime action profiling" and "investigative psychology," the job entails using the research and analytical skills relevant to the psychological sciences to better comprehend criminal behavior. When you earn your degree in criminal justice, you can open up more doors of opportunity and go further in your career. Use this site to find out more about careers in the field of criminal justice, and to contact the schools with programs that interest you. Whether you want to search by level of degree, location of school, or by career type, is your place to start moving ahead.
Criminal Profiler Trends
Since its debut, criminal profiling has been met with skepticism as to how useful it is to the actual apprehension of criminals. Even so, most people agree that psychology-based criminal behavior analysis can at the least give us intriguing insights into the development and workings of a criminal mind. Criminal profiler job opportunities remain extremely limited and those interested in the field are increasingly likely to develop skills that permit them to work in other law enforcement jobs, notably criminal investigation and crime scene analysis. In order to score a high-profile job, like those offered by the FBI, prior law enforcement experience is a must. Those who don't want to give up on the dream of a criminal profiler career are therefore well-advised to get their start by pursuing a job in criminal investigation or crime scene analysis.

Jessica Yi

As above mentioned, the criminal profile “is an investigative profession used to assist law enforcement and government agencies pursuing unknown perpetrators”. However, Ertelt and Matson thought the episodes of TV and films are far from reality of the criminal profiling in their review of Criminal and Behavioral Profiling. Also, Dr. Wedding described that in the last few years, more students asked his some information about criminal profile. I think in the phenomena, there is a series of thinking biases. First, we have to admit that so far, criminal profile has been a controversial subject because of its limited validity. However, as described in TV or film, all criminal profilers are brave, brilliant and mysterious. Such impression greatly influences people to judge and make a decision. This is “WYSIATI” (what you see is all there is) according to Kahneman (2011), and “Hallo effect”—two thinking biases. Furthermore, I believe there must be some amazing criminal cases that are solved according to excellent performance of criminal profiling. People are easier to produce illusion of validity about criminal profile, therefore overvalue the criminal profile’s contribution and scientificalness.

June Lee

Today is my 1st time watching "criminal mind", indeed my students in community college had always asked me to watch it, as they think it is very fascinating and they always want to ask me if the information is truth. I think like you said, it is very interesting and appearing for them to be a profiler or detective and catching criminals. It is a sense of achievement for them. Also, it is very exciting if you following the episode (I must say) haha I somewhat agreed with Jessica, misunderstanding of profiling might create halo effect or stereotyping (which the media often create that through movies and tv drama). What I do is I do remind my students what is shown on TV shows often is for entertainment haha, so they have to read articles about these type of forensic research if they would like to know more.

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Editor of PsycCRITIQUES

Danny Wedding, PhD

Chair of Behavioral Sciences,
College of Medicine,
American University of Antigua

Associate Editors of PsycCRITIQUES

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