Psychology and social justice: why we do what we do

Am Psychol. 2012 Jul-Aug;67(5):337-46. doi: 10.1037/a0029232.


Much of psychological science and knowledge is significantly relevant to social justice, defined here as the goal to decrease human suffering and to promote human values of equality and justice. A commitment to social justice has evolved as a more important value in the last few decades for psychology, including for the American Psychological Association (APA). The mission, vision, goals, Ethics Code, and strategic plan of APA all provide a rationale for psychologists' involvement in systematic and visible ways of applying our knowledge to social issues. Although psychology has not been immune to the application of psychological knowledge in destructive ways, overall, psychology, many psychologists, and APA have demonstrated a commitment to social justice. This article provides a brief review of the key proponents, debates, and controversies involved in applying psychological science and knowledge to complex societal problems. Psychologists often find themselves in conflict and honest disagreement when the association addresses complex and controversial issues. An important goal is that we continue to find ways to agree or disagree in a respectful manner regardless of where each of us stands on the various positions that APA takes.

Publication types

  • Address

MeSH terms

  • Codes of Ethics
  • Humans
  • Psychology / ethics*
  • Social Justice*
  • Societies, Scientific*