Feeling at Home: Learning, Law & Narrative

Lea B. Vaughn

Univ. of Washington School of Law

July 31, 2009

Brain science, simplified here, suggests that the first task is to “grab” someone’s attention because “better attention always equals better learning.” (Medina 74) One of the features of stories that captures attention better than cases is their emotional content. Emotionally charged events are more likely to capture our attention and to be remembered. A beneficial consequence of the emotional fixation is that it focuses attention on the context and meaning. Studies suggest that this context is the platform that allows later and successive integration of the details. Thus, stories “work” because they focus attention and provide a context for learning the “details,” i.e., the law. Moreover, the same principles that apply to the success of this strategy in the classroom can also bear fruit in the courtroom and in litigation documents.

This paper is designed to complement Prof. O’Neill’s (Univ. of Washington SOL) paper on the use of print media stories about the recent financial crisis to teach contracts. The focus of my paper will be to consider theories and accounts from cognitive as well as evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, and cultural anthropology in order to explain why the use of stories is such an effective teaching and presentation strategy.

Keywords: narrative, storytelling, legal writing, cognitive psychology, evolutionary psychology, teaching

working papers series

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Date posted: September 8, 2009 ; Last revised: September 2, 2011

Suggested Citation

Vaughn, Lea B., Feeling at Home: Learning, Law & Narrative (July 31, 2009). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1470312

Contact Information

Lea B. Vaughn (Contact Author)
Univ. of Washington School of Law ( email )
William H. Gates Hall
Box 353020
Seattle, WA 98105-3020
United States
(206) 543-4927 (Phone)

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