Anchoring Legal Standards

41 Pages Posted: 14 Mar 2014 Last revised: 27 Oct 2015

See all articles by Yuval Feldman

Yuval Feldman

Bar-Ilan University - Faculty of Law

Amos Schurr

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Doron Teichman

Hebrew University of Jerusalem - Faculty of Law

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: March 12, 2014


This Article presents the first empirical study on the way in which irrelevant anchors influence the interpretation of vague legal standards. A large body of psychological research demonstrates that when people make judgments on a continuum, they are often affected by meaningless anchors. Building on this body of work, legal scholars have shown that judicial decisions related to remedies (i.e., damages and penalties) are also influenced by such anchors. This Article extends this insight and hypothesizes that the process of interpreting vague legal norms is subject to an anchoring effect as well.

To test this hypothesis, the Article presents a series of stylized experiments that measure and compare participants’ interpretation of a vague norm after they have been exposed to irrelevant anchors. Overall, the results confirm the proposed hypothesis and suggest that the content of substantive legal rules might be altered by anchors. This effect is documented in numerous legal settings and across both expert (i.e., experienced lawyers) and non-expert (i.e., students) populations. Furthermore, the effect is shown to exist when participants express judgments about a hypothetical scenario and when they make decisions with ramifications for others. Based on these findings, the Article revisits several long-standing legal debates and reevaluates their conclusions.

Keywords: Anchoring, Behavioral Law and Economics, Cognitive Biases, Legal Interpretation

JEL Classification: K42; K40; K41

Suggested Citation

Feldman, Yuval and Schurr, Amos and Teichman, Doron, Anchoring Legal Standards (March 12, 2014). Hebrew University of Jerusalem Legal Research Paper No. 15-8, Available at SSRN: or

Yuval Feldman

Bar-Ilan University - Faculty of Law ( email )

Faculty of Law
Ramat Gan, 52900

Amos Schurr

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev ( email )

1 Ben-Gurion Blvd
Beer-Sheba 84105, 84105

Doron Teichman (Contact Author)

Hebrew University of Jerusalem - Faculty of Law ( email )

Mount Scopus
Mount Scopus, IL 91905

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