Law and the Emotions

41 Pages Posted: 15 Sep 2000

See all articles by Eric A. Posner

Eric A. Posner

University of Chicago - Law School

Date Written: September 2000


This paper presents a framework for understanding the relationship between rational choice and emotional behavior. Emotions are interpreted as temporary albeit predictable changes in preferences, abilities, and beliefs. People act rationally in anticipation of their own emotional reactions to provocations and other stimuli; they also act rationally when under the influence of emotion. The law needs to take account of both of these effects. The paper discusses (1) the sanction for murders committed under the influence of rage or hate, (2) the treatment of prejudicial evidence such as gory photographs, (3) safety regulation when individuals are subject to fear or dread, (4) contract and judicial remedies when parties become angry at each other, and (5) cost-benefit analysis of projects that provoke emotional responses.

JEL Classification: K12, K14, K42

Suggested Citation

Posner, Eric A., Law and the Emotions (September 2000). U Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 103, Available at SSRN: or

Eric A. Posner (Contact Author)

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