Shows like CSI, Law & Order and Bones depict individuals in many areas of criminal investigations. These shows create a sometimes accurate but more often times than not fantastical view of the field. Writers have creative license over the material and are creating content to grab your attention and provoke emotion rather than present factual information on criminal events.

There are some true to life types of shows on a few cable networks such as Investigation Discovery that aim to present actual facts of an investigation, but the main idea is still to captivate an audience. Whether these crime detective shows are real or fake, some factual and realistic information is often incorporated into the plot. Most of you probably see this field for what television crime detective shows portray – an exciting action packed race to solve a crime within an extremely short period of time. If it’s a field that interests you, read on for a crash course in distinguishing fact from fiction in TV crime detective shows.

Fact

Closing off the scene…One truth is that the crime scene is closed off to spectators and generally the media to keep evidence as free from destruction as possible.

Gathering evidence…Evidence is gathered by a number of sources on the scene and either analyzed there or taken to labs to be evaluated.

Expert opinions…Forensic psychologists do offer expertise on crime investigations as needed.

Beginning to end…Psychologists delve into a suspect’s life. Sometimes as a forensic psychologist, you will have to go deep into a person’s life, analyzing their childhood as well.

Legal…Litigation is often involved between attorneys in wrongful death incidents.

Fiction

The gadgets…Many times on these crime shows, while completing lab work, investigators will have access to certain technology that helps them analyze evidence and solve crimes. At times, these procedures and gadgets are actually just fictional and not really used in forensic psychology analyses and investigation. It also seems that the labs are fully equipped with everything that is needed to conduct analyses and it takes a short time to get results. The truth is that often forensic evidence must be sent to special labs to be analyzed at separate locations and results can days or longer depending on the analysis needed.

Crime solving…In TV crime shows, forensic psychologists put all the pieces together to solve the crimes with their psychology skills. In reality, forensic psychologists generally lend expert analysis, recommendations, and testimonials in or after court proceedings and translate scientific jargon into language understandable in the courtroom. On TV it seems as though the forensic psychologists do it all from analyzing evidence, to conducting interviews, to making arrests, but it just isn’t true. As helpful as you will be in this field to an investigation, you won’t be doing it all, which brings in the next point.

All around or specialized…Most forensic psychologists have a specialty that they are brought in to consult on such as a counselor, evaluator, be a witness, provide treatment, and conduct research.

Science is stone…When these crime shows bring in the experts to evaluate evidence or suspects and witnesses; the scientific findings are always set in stone and stand up in court. This is however, untrue. Many times findings from these experts are prone to error and disagreements occur. Scientific approaches change as well.

Just remember, fictional television crime shows are purely entertainment and those shows based on real crimes offer some insight but only tell what is interesting and will captivate an audience. Fiction outweighs fact in most cases and don’t provide true insight. As a forensic psychologist, your work will be important and needful, but it won’t necessarily be the next episode on a TV crime drama.