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Law and Social Cognition


Barbara A. Spellman


University of Virginia School of Law

Frederick Schauer


University of Virginia School of Law

January 7, 2012

Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2012-10

Abstract:     
The body of research on law and psychology is vast, but the overwhelming proportion of it is on jury decision making, especially in criminal cases. In this chapter for the forthcoming Oxford Handbook on Social Cognition (D. Carlston ed.), we attempt to broaden this research agenda. We survey briefly the existing state of psychological research on jury decision making, but show that, even with respect to factual determinations, the jury is a less important decision maker than most psychologists appear to believe. Thus, further research on factual determination by judges, of which there is some but not much, could substantially enrich our understanding of the psychological dimensions of legal decision making. Moreover, the role of judges in finding, interpreting, and applying the law is itself a task necessarily involving social cognition, and we explain both this connection and how further research on the social cognition dimensions of legal reasoning and legal argument could be highly valuable. Finally, we explain how numerous issues of substantive law – questions of intent, reasonableness, and knowledge, to give just a few examples – are themselves dependent on assumptions about the social and cognitive psychological reasoning of the people affected and governed by the law. There is very little psychology research on such questions, and the agenda of law and psychology could usefully be expanded to include such themes.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 63

Keywords: juries, jury decision making, judicial decision making, and law and psychology

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Date posted: February 7, 2012 ; Last revised: February 14, 2012

Suggested Citation

Spellman, Barbara A. and Schauer, Frederick, Law and Social Cognition (January 7, 2012). Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2012-10. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2000806

Contact Information

Barbara A. Spellman
University of Virginia School of Law ( email )
580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

Frederick Schauer (Contact Author)
University of Virginia School of Law ( email )
580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States
434-924-6777 (Phone)

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