Naive Cynicism: Maintaining False Perceptions in Policy Debates

77 Pages Posted: 18 Mar 2008 Last revised: 30 Sep 2008

See all articles by Adam Benforado

Adam Benforado

Drexel University Kline School of Law

Jon D. Hanson

Harvard Law School


This is the second article in a multi-part series. In the first part, The Great Attributional Divide, the authors suggested that a major rift runs across many of our major policy debates based on contrasting attributional tendencies (dispositionist and situationist). This article explores how dispositionism maintains its dominance despite the fact that it misses so much of what actually moves us. It argues that the answer lies in a subordinate dynamic and discourse, naïve cynicism: the basic subconscious mechanism by which dispositionists discredit and dismiss situationist insights and their proponents. Without it, the dominant person schema - dispositionism - would be far more vulnerable to challenge and change, and the more accurate person schema - situationism - less easily and effectively attacked. Naïve cynicism is thus critically important to explaining how and why certain legal policies manage to carry the day.

Keywords: law, legal theory, ideology, psychology, situationism, realism, naive realism, abu ghraib

Suggested Citation

Benforado, Adam and Hanson, Jon D., Naive Cynicism: Maintaining False Perceptions in Policy Debates. Emory Law Journal, Vol. 57, 2008, Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 08-37, Available at SSRN:

Adam Benforado

Drexel University Kline School of Law ( email )

3320 Market Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

Jon D. Hanson (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1563 Massachusetts
Griswold 403
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
607-496-5207 (Phone)


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