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A Third Model of Legal Compliance: Testing for Expressive Effects in a Hawk/Dove Game

34 Pages Posted: 10 Aug 2004  

Richard H. McAdams

University of Chicago Law School

Janice Nadler

Northwestern University - School of Law; American Bar Foundation

Date Written: July 15, 2004


Economic theories of legal compliance emphasize legal sanctions, while psychological and sociological theories stress the perceived legitimacy of law. Without disputing the importance of either mechanism, we test a third way that law affects behavior, an expressive theory that claims law influences behavior by creating a focal point around which individuals coordinate. We argue that mixed motive games involving coordination model many common disputes, and that, in such games, any third-party cheap talk, including legal rules, that calls the players' attention to a particular equilibrium tends to produce that equilibrium. We investigated how various forms of third party cheap talk influence the behavior of subjects in a Hawk/Dove or Chicken game. Despite the players' conflicting interests, we found that messages highlighting one equilibrium tend to produce that outcome. This result emerged when the message was selected by an overtly random, mechanical process, and also when it was delivered by a third-party subject; the latter effect was significantly stronger than the former only when the subject speaker was selected by a merit-based process. These results suggest that, in certain circumstances, law generates compliance not only by sanctions and legitimacy, but also by facilitating coordination around a focal outcome.

Keywords: law and social conflict, law and dispute resolution, law and decision making

Suggested Citation

McAdams, Richard H. and Nadler, Janice, A Third Model of Legal Compliance: Testing for Expressive Effects in a Hawk/Dove Game (July 15, 2004). IACM 17th Annual Conference Paper No. P-107. Available at SSRN: or

Richard H. McAdams (Contact Author)

University of Chicago Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
773-834-2520 (Phone)

Janice Nadler

Northwestern University - School of Law

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
312-503-3228 (Phone)
312-503-2035 (Fax)

American Bar Foundation ( email )

750 N. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60611

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