Putting the social back in legal socialization: Procedural justice, legitimacy, and cynicism in legal and nonlegal authorities

Rick Trinkner, Ellen S. Cohn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

53 Scopus citations


Traditionally, legal socialization theory and research has been dominated by a cognitive developmental approach. However, more recent work (e.g., Fagan &Tyler, 2005) has used procedural justice to explain the legal socialization process. This article presents 2 studies that expand this approach by testing a procedural justice model of legal socialization in terms of legal and nonlegal authority. In Study 1, participants completed surveys assessing the degree to which they perceived 3 authorities (police officers, parents, and teachers) as procedurally fair, the degree to which they perceived the authorities as legitimate, how cynical they were about laws, and the extent of their rule violation during the past 6 months. Across all 3 authorities, legitimacy and legal cynicism mediated the relation between procedural justice and rule violation. Study 2 examined the model with the same 3 authority types using experimental methods. Participants read 3 scenarios describing an interaction between an adolescent and an authority figure where a rule is enforced. Within each scenario, we manipulated whether the adolescent had a voice and whether the authority enforced the rule impartially. After reading each scenario, participants rated the authority's legitimacy, their cynicism toward the authority's rule, and the likelihood they would violate the rule. Again, legitimacy and rule cynicism mediated the relation between impartiality, voice, and rule violation. In addition, impartiality had a stronger effect in the parent and teacher scenarios, whereas voice had a stronger effect in the police scenario. Results are discussed in terms of expanding legal socialization to nonlegal contexts and applying legal socialization research to prevention and intervention strategies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)602-617
Number of pages16
JournalLaw and Human Behavior
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014



  • Legal socialization
  • authority
  • delinquency
  • legitimacy
  • procedural justice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology(all)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Law

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