The Situationist

Harvard Conference: “Ideology, Psychology & Law”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 26, 2008

The Project on Law and Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School is hosting its second conference on March 8, 2008. To learn more about the conference or to register, go to the conference webpage. We’ve posted a tentative agenda, including abstracts of the presentations, below.

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Second Conference on Law and Mind Sciences

“Ideology, Psychology & Law”

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Tentative Agenda


9:25 – 9:55: Continental Breakfast
10:00 – 10:15: Opening Remarks
10:20 – 12:30: Session 1
Social Psychologists:

  • 10:20 – 10:45: Mahzarin R. Banaji, “The Hammer of Ideology”:

If you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Ideology is like that, psychologically orienting us to hammer (almost) every judgment and decision with it. I will offer data on the conscious and unconscious manner in which the mind so hammers, and its consequences for fairness in law.

  • 10:50 – 11:15: Brian Nosek, “Ideology and Automaticity”:

Listen to a partisan, and you might believe that ideology is the result of reasoned analysis of social life. Listen to the evidence, and you might be convinced that the partisans’ reasons are the product of ideology, rather than the cause of it. My research group investigates the automatic basis of ideology and moral judgment, and how deliberative reasoning is a secondary act that emboldens or corrects the initial “gut” judgment.

  • 11:20 – 11:45: Aaron Kay, “The Psychological Power of the Status Quo”:

Although people tend to view their beliefs, values, and ideology as entirely the product of thoughtful deliberation, it is becoming increasingly clear that such a view is largely mistaken. In this talk, I will describe how the motivation to perceive the current status quo as just, legitimate, and desirable — an implicit motive known as “system justification” — exerts powerful and consequential effects on social perception and judgment. My remarks will focus particularly on the role of system justification in maintaining social inequalities.

11:50 – 12:20: Legal Scholars (Moderated Q&A):

  • Yochai Benkler
  • Elizabeth Warren

12:25 – 1:00: Lunch

1:05 – 1:15: Michael McCann, The Situationist

1:20 – 3:15: Session 2
Social Psychologists:

  • 1:20 – 1:45: Dan Kahan, “Cultural Cognition of” or “Political Ideology in” Law: What Difference Does It Make?”:

Recent scholarship in law and political science identifies “political ideology” as a major determinant of judicial decisionmaking. My talk will consider the possibility that much if not all the evidence this work rests on might be attributed to the influence of cultural cognition, a set of mechanisms that motivate individuals to conform their factual perceptions to their values. I will suggest why this account might not only furnish a psychologically richer and more complete description of dissensus (and consensus) in law, but also how it complicates the normative implications of judicial disagreements attributed to “ideology.”

  • 1:50 – 2:15: Geoffrey Cohen, “Identity, Belief, and Bias”:

The presented research explores the way in which motivations to protect long-held beliefs and identities contribute to bias, resistance to probative information, and ideological intransigence.

  • 2:20 – 2:45: Emily Pronin, “Implications of Personal and Social Claims and Denials of Bias”:

People’s efforts to make accurate, fair, and sound judgments and decisions often are compromised by various cognitive and motivational biases. Although this is clearly a problem, the solution is less clear due to the fact that people generally deny, and often are literally unaware of, their own commissions of bias – even while they readily impute bias to those around them. I will discuss evidence for this asymmetry in bias perception and for the sources that underlie it, and I will discuss its relevance to three policy concerns – i.e., corruption, discrimination, and conflict. Finally, I will discuss solutions, with a focus on potential pitfalls and how to avoid them.

2:50 – 3:20: Legal Scholars (Moderated Q&A):

  • Jennifer Brown
  • Joseph Singer

3:25 – 3:40: Coffee Break

3:40 – 5:20: Session 3

  • 3:45 – 4:05: Jim Sidanius, “Under Color of Authority: Terror, Intergroup Violence and ‘The Law'”:

While instances of inter-communal violence and genocide are obvious and immensely tragic, what is not as readily appreciated is the widespread extent and ferocity of the intergroup violence that is channeled through legal and criminal justice systems. Given the fact that the legal and criminal justice systems are disproportionately controlled by members of dominant rather than subordinate social groups, social dominance theory argues that a substantial portion of the output of the criminal justice system can be seen as a form of intergroup violence, the function of which is to maintain the structural integrity of group-based social hierarchy.

  • 4:10 – 4:35: Jon Hanson, “The Situation of Ideology”

The frames, categories, schemas, and ideologies that dominate legal and policy discourse did not just emerge fully formed. Nor are they a gift of nature or the product of some well-functioning marketplace of ideas. Instead they reflect the interaction of numerous forces that operate more or less invisibly within us and around us. For instance, they reflect many of the subconscious proclivities discussed by the other presenters. My talk will focus on some of the external situational forces that are devoted to promoting some ideologies and undermining others by tapping into, manipulating, and exploiting those subconscious tendencies.

  • 4:40 – 5:00: Large Panel Discussion
  • 5:00 – 5:20: Audience Q&A

5:25 – 5:30: Closing Remarks

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