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Fall seminar: Law & Cognition

Will be offering this course in law school & psychology dept this fall:

Law & Cognition. The goal of this seminar will be to deepen participants' understanding of how legal decisionmakers--particularly judges and juries--think. We will compile an in-depth catalog of empirically grounded frameworks, including ones founded in behavioral economics, social psychology, and political science; relate these to historical and contemporary jurisprudential perspectives, such as "formalism," "legal realism," and the "legal process school"; and develop critical understandings of the logic and presuppositions of pertinent forms of proof--controlled experiments, observational studies, and neuroscience imaging, among others. Students will write short response papers on weekly readings.

I've taught the course before, but for sure I'll be updating the previous reading list, particularly in connection with the study of judicial decisionmaking, where there is now valid experimental alternatives to the observational studies of "judicial behavior" featured in political science.

The course is really pretty cool because it is equally valuable, in my view, for those who want to learn the "laws of cognition" (or at least the best current understandings of the mechanisms of them) & those who want to learn how cognitive dynamics shape the law. 

I advanced a theme similar to this to explain why law furnishes such a useful laboratory for studying cognitive science in Laws of Cognition and Cognition of Law, 135 Cognition 56 (2015),  which is a passable preview for this course.  

click me! pls!!!For sure we'll get to do fun things w/ little diagrams that relate various decisionmaking dynamics--from confirmation bias to motivated cognition, from the "story telling model" to "coherence based reasoning"-- to a straightforward Bayesian model of information processing!

I'm hoping, too, that this course can have a "virtual space," on-line counterpart.  That worked super well for last spring's Science of Science Communication seminar.

If anyone is eager to help facilitate the on-line counterpart, I'm happy to accommodate. Just send me an email!

I'll post various materials as they become available. But for now here is some more "course information":

General Information & Course Outline

A.  Nature of the Seminar

The focus of this seminar will be a set of interrelated frameworks for studying how legal decisionmakers think. These frameworks use concepts and methods from a variety of disciplines, including social psychology, behavioral economics, and political science. What unites—but also divides—them is their ambition to generate empirically grounded accounts of the various cognitive elements of legal decisionmaking: from values and motivations to perceptions and reasoning processes.

For our purposes, “legal decisionmakers” will mean mainly judges and jurors. Our aim will be to assess the contribution that the various frameworks make to explaining, predicting, and identifying means for improving the judgments of these actors. Because we will be interested in how the cognitive tendencies of these two groups of decisionmakers diverge, moreover, we will also afford some consideration to the professional(ized) habits of minds of lawyers more generally.

There are a number of things that we will not be examining in great detail. We will not be trying to identify how the study of cognition can be used to enhance the regulatory efficacy of the law, for example. Nor will we be examining the contribution that the study of cognition might make to improving the law’s use of forensic science. We will, of course, form some insights on these matters, for it is impossible to evaluate the cognitive functioning of legal decisionmakers without reference to its impact on the effectiveness of law and the accuracy of adjudication. But the limited duration of the seminar will prevent us from systematically assessing the relevance of the frameworks to these objectives—in large part because doing so adequately would require consideration of so many phenomena in addition to how legal decisionmakers think.

The seminar will also have a secondary objective: to form a working familiarity with the empirical methods featured in the study of cognition. We will not be designing studies or performing statistical analyses.  But we will be devoting time and attention to acquiring the conceptual knowledge necessary to make independent critical appraisals of the empirical work we will be examining. 

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