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Legal Psychology: the point of union between Psychology and Law

Legal Psychology: the point of union between Psychology and Law

May 1, 2024

Psychology and Law share an important similarity ; both are human and social sciences and share their object of study and the same area of ​​intervention, human behavior. But this link goes even further.

Psychology in the legal field

The object of study of Psychology are the characteristics of human behavior, while Law focuses on laws that regulate such behavior. Therefore, we can differentiate three contributions of Psychology in the legal field:

  • The study of the specificities or peculiarities of behavior on the part of Psychology, it provides the necessary basis from which specific laws can be created that consider these peculiarities and increase the effectiveness of the laws.
  • Psychology can help both in social organization and in the resolution of conflicts that can generate the laws, since the route adopted by the judicial power does not have to imply the individual acceptance of them.
  • Evaluate the degree of functionality of the law allowing it to achieve a greater adjustment to psychological changes that occur in the application of the laws.

For all the above, the role of Psychology in Law focuses on studying how different judicial decisions affect behavior, analyzing to what extent such resolutions manage to regulate society in order to progressively improve the judicial system.

Thus, the first relationships that the Law establishes with Psychology are produced through Social Psychology, Psychology of Attribution and Cognitive Psychology.

Social psychology

From the Social Psychology it is postulated that the human being behaves according to the different interactions that he maintains within his social environment. Thus, legislators must take into account the relationships that the person establishes with others , in this way you can have the necessary base in the elaboration of the norms that regulate human behavior.

For example, in the prediction of future behaviors when granting prison permits or provisional freedom, since by incorporating the person in the same social sphere in which he carried out the criminal behavior, he is exposed to the same stimuli that could have impelled him to commit these behaviors.

Psychology of Attribution

The Psychology of Attribution provides the mechanisms of explanation in the field of judicial decisions , specifically in the decision of guilt and criminal responsibility.

Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive Psychology is related to the field of witnessing, providing explanations of human behavior through the information obtained by juries, judges, witnesses and defendants.

The differences between Psychology and Law

However, there are clear differences between the two sciences; the most striking is that the law belongs to the category of "must be" (norms) and psychology to "be" (behaviors).

As indicated by authors such as Garrido (1994), the main difference between these two sciences is that although both are interested in the same subjects, the meaning they give is significantly different. Law regulates and intuits the factors that guide behavior and tells us what we should do or avoid. On the other hand, Psychology analyzes, measures, predicts and modifies behavior .

Therefore, some authors indicate that Psychology shows three approaches to the legal field:

  • Psychology of Law : focused on analyzing the psychological components for the functioning of the Law.
  • Psychology in Law : study the legal norms that imply the performance of diverse conducts.
  • Psychology for Law : turned into an auxiliary science of the Law, in the establishment of the truth of the facts, the imputability, the interpretation of the conducts, etc.

The concept of Legal Psychology

However, where the union between Psychology and Law is strengthened is in Legal Psychology, within which the Forensic Psychology is integrated, since this type of psychology centers its area of ​​action in the Law and in applying specifically the techniques and knowledge psychological to the interpretation of the entire judicial process.

Thus, Legal Psychology is the area of ​​research and psychological work whose object of study are the behaviors of legal actors in the fields of Law, Law and Justice.It includes the study, evaluation, explanation, prevention and treatment and / or assessment of those psychological, behavioral and relational aspects involved in the legal behavior of people through the methods of Scientific Psychology.

Fields of action of Legal Psychology

There are various classifications of the fields of action of Legal Psychology, and their prevalence varies in different countries. In general terms we can talk about the following areas of action:

Applied Psychology to Courts

Also called Forensic Psychology, includes the psychology applied to the rights of minors, family, civil, labor and criminal law . Different areas in which the psychologist makes technical reports, advice on the measures that should be applied, follow-up of interventions, etc.

Prison Psychology

The scope that includes the performance of the psychologist within the penitentiary institutions . Its functions involve the classification in modules of inmates, the study of the granting of exit permits, pardons, the study of the social climate, the general organization of the prison and the performance of individual and group treatments.

Judicial Psychology

His two most representative areas are the Psychology of Testimony and the Psychology of the Jury. The first refers to the application of research results of Social and Experimental Psychology in determining the validity of the testimonies ie the accuracy and credibility of the testimonies of eyewitnesses whether they are about accidents, everyday events and / or crimes .

In the second, the psychologist is in charge of the investigation of the decision-making processes , of the social influence of the juries as well as the evaluation of them.

Police Psychology and the Armed Forces

This field refers to the role of the psychologist in the selection, training, organization and relationship with society of this group (Police, Civil Guard, Army, etc.).


It refers to the role of the psychologist in the care of victims of different types (ill-treatment, sexual abuse, attention to the detainee, etc.). Its functions are focused on the study, planning and prevention of risk groups and informative campaigns of prevention to the general population and in the care, treatment and monitoring of victims and their interaction with the legal system.


It includes the scope of action of the psychologist in the solution of legal conflicts through negotiation performing an intervention that helps mitigate and prevent the emotional or social damage of those involved. Its functions are focused on preparing an adequate context for the communication of the parties, designing a mediation process and providing the parties with the tools that allow them to handle the conflict.

The functions of Legal Psychologists

In each of these areas, the Legal Psychologist performs various functions:

  • The evaluation and diagnosis in order to determine the psychological conditions of the legal actors.
  • The advice that implies guiding and / or advising as an expert to the judicial bodies in matters pertaining to their discipline.
  • The intervention, the design and the realization of programs aimed at the prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and integration of legal actors in their different areas (community, prison environment, etc.), both individually and as a group.
  • Education and training understood as the training and / or selection of professionals involved in the legal system (lawyers, judges, prosecutors, police, prison staff, etc.) both in content and psychological techniques useful in their work.
  • The campaigns of social prevention in mass media before the criminality elaborating and advising on social information campaigns for population at risk and general population.
  • The investigation of the various problems of Legal Psychology.
  • The study and research to help improve the situation of the victim and its interaction with the legal system.


In conclusion, and in a synthetic way, it could be said that Psychology and Law are united since both share the same object of study human behavior and the Legal Psychology allows to contribute the knowledge of the Psychology on the human behavior of objective form independently of the point of view or scope of action where it is being analyzed and to consider the judicial process approaching it more to the society.

Although, unfortunately, in those cases in which the political weighs more than the social does not produce an effective relationship between Psychology and Law (Law) and situations occur in which the psychological aspects of human behavior have less relevance when making a decision or reaching a final resolution.

Bibliographic references:

  • Jiménez, E.M., Bunce, D. (2010): Concepts of Forensic Psychology: common and divergent budgets between Psychology and Law. In Sierra, J.C., Jiménez, E.M., Buela-Casal, G, forensic psychology: manual of techniques and applications. (pp.70-85). Madrid: New Library.
  • (2016). Juridic psychology. [online] Retrieved from: //

Admirable Evasions: How Psychology Undermines Morality (May 2024).

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