Laws of Cognition and the Cognition of Law

Cognition, Forthcoming

14 Pages Posted: 30 Oct 2014 Last revised: 23 Dec 2014

See all articles by Dan M. Kahan

Dan M. Kahan

Yale University - Law School

Date Written: October 26, 2014


This paper presents a compact synthesis of the study of cognition in legal decisionmaking. Featured dynamics include the Story-telling Model (Pennington & Hastie, 1986), lay prototypes (Smith, 1993), motivated cognition (Sood, 2012), and coherence-based reasoning (Simon, Pham & Holyoak, 2001). Unlike biases and heuristics understood to bound or constrain rationality, these dynamics identify how information shapes a variety of cognitive inputs — from priors to the preception of, and probative weight assigned to, new evidence — that rational decisionmaking presupposes. The operation of these mechanisms can be shown to radically alter the significance that jurors give to evidence, and hence the conclusions they reach, within a Bayesian framework of information processing. How these dynamics interact with the professional judgment of lawyers and judges, the paper notes, remains in need of investigation.

Keywords: cognition, motivated reasoning, story telling model, coherence based reasoning

Suggested Citation

Kahan, Dan M., Laws of Cognition and the Cognition of Law (October 26, 2014). Cognition, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN:

Dan M. Kahan (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States


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