At the 2007 Project on Law and Mind Sciences Conference, John Darley’s talk was titled “Justice as Intuitions.” Here is the abstract for his talk.
When a person receives a description of an individual committing a specific crime, the person rapidly forms judgments on the severity of the offense and the duration of appropriate punishment for it. Evidence is converging that those judgments are what we would now call “intuitive” judgments. Rather than being the result of a reason-guided, step-by-step analysis, the severity and punishment judgments seem simply to “pop into” the heads of the respondents. Thus, they are similar to the heuristics, biases, and other shortcut decisions that we all use, as documented by the judgment and decision-making researchers. Imaging
research suggests that these intuitions draw on both evaluative and emotional areas of the brain. Behavioral research demonstrates that these intuitions are driven by intuitive ideas of “just deserts” (i.e., retributive reactions rather than more reason-based deterrent or incapacitive considerations). The high degree of consensus within cultures on these judgments
suggests that they are learned through early socialization processes, perhaps building on evolutionarily prepared cognitive structures.
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This “justice as intuitions” account has several implications for the judicial system. Most disturbingly, evidence demonstrates that legal codes that contradict these culturally shared intuitions will move citizens toward moral contempt for the justice system and lessened willingness to voluntarily “obey the law.” Rule-of-law practices need reconsideration in the light of an understanding of the basic shared notions within the population about right and wrong. Finally, we will examine how such actions as “insider trading” can be framed so that citizens will find them appropriately criminalized, and why some public welfare offenses are difficult to intuit as crimes.
Below you can watch a video of Darley’s fascinating presentation (26 minutes).
For related Situationist posts, see “Why We Punish,” “Kevin Jon Heller on The Cognitive Psychology of Mens Rea,” and “First Conference on Law and Mind Sciences.”
To watch similar videos, visit the video libraries on the Project on Law and Mind Sciences website (here).
For information on the Third PLMS conference (scheduled for March 7, 2009), click here.