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Taking Behavioralism Seriously: The Problem of Market Manipulation

Jon D. Hanson

Harvard Law School

Douglas A. Kysar

Yale University - Law School


New York University Law Review, Vol. 74, p. 632, 1999
Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 08-54

For the past few decades, cognitive psychologists and behavioral researchers have been steadily uncovering evidence that human decisionmaking processes are prone to nonrational, yet systematic, tendencies. These researchers claim not merely that we sometimes fail to abide by rules of logic, but that we fail to do so in predictable ways.

With a few notable exceptions, implications of this research for legal institutions were slow in reaching the academic literature. Within the last few years, however, we have seen an outpouring of scholarship addressing the impact of behavioral research over a wide range of legal topics. Indeed, one might predict that the current behavioral movement eventually will have an influence on legal scholarship matched only by its predecessor, the law and economics movement. Ultimately, any legal concept that relies in some sense on a notion of reasonableness or that is premised on the existence of a reasonable or rational decisionmaker will need to be reassessed in light of the mounting evidence that humans are "a reasoning rather than a reasonable animal."

This Article contributes to that reassessment by focusing on the problem of manipulability. Our central contention is that the presence of unyielding cognitive biases makes individual decisionmakers susceptible to manipulation by those able to influence the context in which decisions are made. More particularly, we believe that market outcomes frequently will be heavily influenced, if not determined, by the ability of one actor to control the format of information, the presentation of choices, and, in general, the setting within which market transactions occur. Once one accepts that individuals systematically behave in nonrational ways, it follows from an economic perspective that others will exploit those tendencies for gain.

That possibility of manipulation has a variety of implications for legal policy analysis that have heretofore gone unrecognized. This article highlights some of those implications and makes several predictions that are tested in other work.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 118

Keywords: law and economics, economics, economic behavioralism, behavioralism, law and behavioralism, manipulation, market manipulation, heuristic, biases, products liability

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Date posted: October 24, 2008 ; Last revised: November 16, 2008

Suggested Citation

Hanson, Jon D. and Kysar, Douglas A., Taking Behavioralism Seriously: The Problem of Market Manipulation (1999). New York University Law Review, Vol. 74, p. 632, 1999; Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 08-54. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1288182

Contact Information

Jon D. Hanson (Contact Author)
Harvard Law School ( email )
1563 Massachusetts
Griswold 403
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
607-496-5207 (Phone)
HOME PAGE: http://www.law.harvard.edu/faculty/directory/facdir.php?id=25

Douglas A. Kysar
Yale University - Law School ( email )
P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

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