Crimes of Suggestion

10th Feb 2010

16:30 - 18:00

Chisholm House


In this paper I intend to highlight a neglected part of the history of the psychology of testimony. Focusing on Germany in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, I will point to the apparent anxiety about free will, memory, and perception that coalesced in both the forensic and public discourse about a series of sensational contemporary court cases involving either hypnosis or suggestion. I will begin with an extended case study of the Berchtold trial (a triple murder trial that took place in Munich in 1896) in which the defense counsel and one of the expert witnesses sought to show that the majority of the witnesses who appeared before the court were the victims of suggestion and false memory. I will then attempt to argue that this trial and a number of others like it, for example, the Czynski, Sauter and Mainone cases, contributed to a crisis around the forensic status and reliability of human observation, free will and memory that helped lead to the development of a new applied psychological sub-discipline in the early twentieth century known as the psychology of testimony (Psychologie der Aussage).


Heather Wolfram is a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for the History of European Discourses at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. Her research has until recently focused on the history of psychical research and parapsychology in Germany (an area in which she has published several articles and a recent book, c. 1870-1939. Clio Medica: The Wellcome Series in the History of Medicine, vol. 88 (Rodopi: Amsterdam, 2009).) She is currently interested in the history of criminal psychology and criminalistics. For more detail, see: