Legal psychology: the point of union between psychology and law

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

Psychology in the legal field

The object of the study of psychology are the characteristics of human conduct, on the other hand the righteous law is concentrated in the laws which govern this conduct. Therefore, we can differentiate three contributions of psychology in the legal field:

  • The study of the specifics or peculiarities of behavior on the psychology side, it provides the necessary basis from which specific laws can be created that take into account these peculiarities and increase the effectiveness of the laws.
  • Psychology can help both social organization and conflict resolution that they can generate laws, since the path taken by the judicial power does not necessarily have to imply the individual acceptance of these.
  • It assesses the degree of functionality of the law by allowing it to better adapt to psychological changes that occur in law enforcement.

For all of the above, the role of psychology in law focuses on the study of how behaviors affect different court decisions, analyzing to what extent these decisions succeed in regulating society in order to progressively improve the justice system. .

Thus, the first relationships that the law establishes with psychology occur through social psychology, attribution psychology and cognitive psychology.

Social psychology

Social psychology postulates that human beings behave according to the different interactions they have in their social environment. So, legislators must take into account the relationships that the person establishes with othersIn this way it will be possible to have the necessary basis in the elaboration of the norms that regulate human conduct.

For example, in predicting future behavior when granting prison permits or interim release because by incorporating the person into the same social sphere in which they committed the criminal behavior, they is exposed to the same stimuli that she might be induced to commit to these behaviors. .

Attribution psychology

The psychology of attribution provides explanatory mechanisms in the area of ​​judicial decisions, Specifically in the decision of guilt and criminal responsibility.

Cognitive psychology

Cognitive psychology is related to the field of testimony, provide explanations of human behavior thanks to information obtained by jurors, judges, witnesses and defendants.

The differences between psychology and law

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

As authors like Garrido (1994) point out, the main difference between these two sciences is that, although both are interested in the same subjects, the meaning they give to them is very different. The law regulates and intuits the factors that guide behavior and tells us what to do and what to avoid. For its part, Psychology analyzes, measures, predicts and modifies behavior.

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

  • Legal psychology: Focused on the analysis of the psychological components of the functioning of the law.
  • Psychology in Law: He studies the legal norms which imply the accomplishment of various behaviors.
  • Legal psychology: Transformed into an auxiliary science of Law, in establishing the truth of facts, accountability, interpretation of conduct, etc.

The concept of legal psychology

However, where the union between psychology and law is consolidated, it is in legal psychology, in which forensic psychology is integrated, because this type of psychology concentrates its field of action in the law and during the application of specifically psychological techniques and knowledge in the interpretation of the entire judicial process.

Thus, legal psychology is the field of research and psychological work the object of study is the behavior of legal actors in the fields of law, law and justice. They include the study, evaluation, explanation, prevention and treatment and / or counseling of psychological, behavioral and relational aspects involved in the legal behavior of people through the methods of scientific psychology.

Areas of action of legal psychology

There are several classifications of areas of legal psychology, and their prevalence varies by country. In general, we can talk about the following areas of action:

Psychology applied to courts

Also called forensic psychology, understands psychology applied to child, family, civil, labor and criminal law. Different areas in which the psychologist provides technical reports, advice on the measures to be applied, monitoring of interventions, etc.

Prison psychology

The field which includes the work of the psychologist within penitentiary establishments. Its functions concern the classification of prisoners into modules, the study of the granting of exit permits, pardons, the study of the social climate, the general organization of the prison and the carrying out of individual and collective treatment.

Forensic psychology

Its two most representative fields are witness psychology and jury psychology. The first refers to the application of the results of research in social and experimental psychology to determine the validity of witnesses, that is, the accuracy and credibility of eyewitnesses whether on accidents, events daily life and / or crimes.

In the second, the psychologist is in charge of research on decision-making processes, The social influence of juries as well as their valuation.

Police and Armed Forces Psychology

This domain refers to the role of the psychologist in the selection, training, organization and relations with society of this group (police, civil guard, army, etc.).


It refers to the role of the psychologist in the care of victims of various types (Abuse, sexual abuse, beware of detention, etc.). Its functions focus on the study, planning and prevention of groups at risk and prevention campaigns for the general population as well as on the care, treatment and follow-up of victims and their interaction with the justice system.


Understand the psychologist’s scope of action in resolving legal disputes through negotiation perform an intervention that helps mitigate and prevent emotional or social harm to those involved. Its functions are to prepare an appropriate context for the communication of the parties, to design a mediation process and to provide the parties with the tools to enable them to manage the conflict.

The functions of legal psychologists

In each of these areas, the legal psychologist performs several functions:

  • Assessment and diagnosis in order to determine the psychological conditions of legal actors.
  • Advice which involves guiding and / or advising as an expert for judicial bodies in matters specific to his discipline.
  • Intervention, design and implementation of programs aimed at prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and integration of legal actors in their various fields (community, prison, etc.), both individually and in groups.
  • Education and training understood as training and / or selection of professionals involved in the legal system (lawyers, judges, prosecutors, police, prison staff, etc.) both in content and in psychological techniques useful for their work.
  • Prevention campaigns on social networks in the face of crime develop and advise on social information campaigns for the population at risk and the general population.
  • The investigation of the various problems of legal psychology.
  • Study and research to help improve the victim’s situation and their interaction with the legal system.


In conclusion, and concisely, you could say that Psychology and law are united because they share the same object of study of human behavior and legal psychology allows us to bring the knowledge of psychology to human behavior in an objective manner regardless of the point of view or field of action where it is analyzed and taken into account in the judicial process closer to the society.

Although, unfortunately, in cases where the politician weighs more than the social, there is no effective relationship between psychology and law (law) and there are situations in which the psychological aspects of human behavior are less relevant. reach a final resolution.

Bibliographical references:

  • Jiménez, EM, Bunce, D. (2010): Concepts of Forensic Psychology: common and divergent hypotheses between psychology and law. In Sierra, JC, Jiménez, EM, Buela-Casal, G, Forensic psychology: manual of techniques and applications. (Pp. 70-85). Madrid: Biblioteca Nueva.
  • Cuts. (2016). Legal psychology. [online] Retrieved from:

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