Legal psychology


The legal psychology is one of several disciplines that exist are applied where the psychological knowledge of the human behavior to issues related to the law . The psychology of the development , psychology community , psychology , social and psychology cognitive are subspecialties within the field of psychology and law . However, probably the closest field of work to legal psychology is forensic psychology.

What is legal psychology?

It is the branch of law that is responsible for studying, explaining, evaluating, preventing, providing advice and treating the different psychological and behavioral phenomena related to the legal behavior of people .

  • What does it consist of
  • Characteristics of legal psychology
  • Source
  • History of legal psychology
  • Research areas
  • Training
  • Roles
  • How it differs from forensic psychology
  • Importance of legal psychology
  • Examples

What does it consist of

The psychology legal is the area of science that charge to cover the work in the legal field and legal related to the personality of the human being and the way how these aspects interact among people because these areas are connected a way that cannot be separated in most occasions. It is also known by the name of criminal or legal psychology and is applied in courts and judicially .


Characteristics of legal psychology

Its main characteristics are:

  • It is composed of psychology and law .
  • It is considered as a human and social science .
  • His area of ​​research is human behavior .
  • Study the way in which behaviors are affected by court decisions.
  • It is an area of research and psychological work that aims to study the conduct of legal actors in terms of law and justice .
  • It includes the study , evaluation , explanation , prevention and treatment of psychological aspects.
  • It is divided into several areas or areas of study and work .


The birth of legal psychology is believed to have been through a study of courtroom questioning by Mckeen Cattell of Columbia University, which opened an entirely new line of research regarding the psychology of testimony . The father of legal psychology is Hugo Münsterberg with his work “On the witness stand”, a book that is cited as the beginning of modern legal psychology .

History of legal psychology

The historical journey of legal psychology dates from the end of the 18th century , at which time publications related to psychological aspects of crime began to be documented . There was also the need to use psychology within judicial practice . During the 19th century, the need for social sciences to support judicial activity was ratified and in the 20th century, many contributions were valued as the beginning of judicial psychology .

In the 1940s, psychologists began to influence publicity in trials, the effects of educational practices on children, publicity in communities, and the courts of appeal began to support the use of qualified psychologists in matters of responsibility for conduct. criminal .

In the 1950s, psychologists began to testify in an expert role and at that time it is called forensic psychology or bench psychologists . During this time there is also an increase in the psychological literature regarding legal aspects. In the sixties, social psychology developed giving rise to the terms of criminality , social disorder , violence and others. In the seventies maturation occurs in forensic psychology also developed the psychology of Witnessing. By the end of the decade, empirical appraisals are started by the jury with the role of the psychologist as an expert witness .

Research areas

The different areas of research in which legal psychology can participate are the following:

  • Psychology of family law : it is based on the processes of separation and divorce, custody, annulment of marriages, marriage of minors and adoptions.
  • Legal psychology applied to the minor : it focuses on the minor when he is seen as a criminal, and studies the possibilities he has of being educated and treated again.
  • Psychology applied to contentious administrative , civil , criminal and labor law : in this case he is in charge of acting as an expert, collaborator or as the advisor to the lawyer or mediator.
  • Prison psychology: the psychologist studies people who are imprisoned to try to understand and interpret their way of being and behaving. They must also prepare a psychological report for classification or treatment.
  • Testimony and jury psychology : applies the knowledge of experimental , basic and social psychology to the study of the credibility and quality of the testimonies of witnesses and jurors.
  • Victim psychology or victimology : studies victimization processes, victim profiles, psychological treatments and preventive measures.
  • Mediation : you can exercise the work of an extrajudicial tool to resolve conflicts in judicial settings.
  • Police and armed forces psychology : acts heterogeneously in selection and training processes, improvising the skills of agents and those ultimately in charge of maintaining public order and citizen security.


The correct training of a legal psychologist depends on the quality of studies that the person has, and these studies include both theoretical and practical knowledge in the professional field of law and psychology . The training should focus on the processes of prevention , evaluation , investigation and the explanation of the psychological processes that are linked to the legal behavior of people.


When a psychologist fulfills a legal function , he then acts at the forensic level, which can be executed through different roles within the same process , these roles are:

  • Witness : in this case the psychologist is in charge of describing the events that he has observed and also helps with the information related to the professional process that is followed.
  • Expert : is the professional in the field of psychology who is responsible for issuing an opinion regarding an examination of the extremes submitted .
  • Qualified witness : this role refers to the person who has technical knowledge such as psychologists.
  • Advisor : this is the psychologist who is in charge of providing advice to either a judge or a court.

How it differs from forensic psychology

Psychology so generally confused from the point of view etymological the term forensic psychology. Although they have some kind of relationship, they do not apply in the same areas since these two types perform completely different functions . The legal psychology is the branch that is responsible for studying the things that happen within the legal system while on the contrary forensic psychology is responsible for studying the issues that are directly related to the crime , his mental state during the crime and the likelihoodthese people have to commit another crime if they are released .

Importance of legal psychology

One of the main reasons why legal psychology is so important is the evaluation and diagnosis that they have on the actors who are involved in the judicial process . They have the function of giving advice and guiding people in the process, they are in charge of intervening in cases in the judicial sphere and designing programs to prevent , rehabilitate and treat the different types of psychological or behavioral problems that are related to these processes. . They also help mediateconflicts that may arise within the judicial sphere and to seek the best solutions for each of the cases.


Some examples are:

  • The psychological intervention in the legal area of some Anglo – Saxon countries focuses on the study of motivations , traits of personality , skills required of the good cop, attribution of responsibility to criminals , how society is perceived stereotypes about minorities, etc.
  • In some places, the main interest in this field is in abused childhood , with societies appearing for its study and prevention, and in the abuse of women, which is a very current issue.

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