American Judges Association


Date of this Version



Court Review, Volume 48, Issue 1-2, 4-12


Copyright © 2012 American Judges Association. Used by permission.


Over a century ago, Dean John Henry Wigmore published a famous demolition of pioneering psychologist Hugo Munsterberg in the Illinois Law Review. Munsterberg had complained in his best seller, On the Witness Stand, that while other disciplines and professions were hustling to learn the lessons about eyewitness memory that his new field of experimental psychology was beginning to teach, “the lawyer alone is obdurate.” Munsterberg charged that the lawyers chose traditional primitive ignorance over scientific enlightenment. Wigmore could not sit still for that. His satirical response is still remembered by psychologists as the bloodthirsty slaughter of psychology as a discipline by the greatest evidence scholar that the Anglo-American tradition ever produced: a grisly paradigm of the kind of welcome social scientists should expect from the legal system and its practitioners. If this is what you get from the great Wigmore, researchers reasoned, just imagine the treatment you will receive from an ordinary legal tribesman.

Wigmore’s withering cross-examination of the wretched “Professor Muensterberg” in this article is so lengthy and so humiliating that there are moments when a slightly creepy sadistic pleasure seems to be animating the dean. But sadism wasn’t the problem. The problem was Wigmore’s cloddish professorial attempts at humor—Wigmore’s sarcasm created a misimpression that he tried to correct for the rest of his life. Wigmore did want to issue a call to order: to correct Munsterberg’s overstatements and to address Munsterberg’s misapprehensions about legal practice. But Wigmore was far from an enemy of psychology as a discipline; he was actually one of psychology’s earliest advocates, the best legal friend that psychology had.