Legal Interpretation and Intuitions of Public Policy

Joshua Furgeson and Linda Babcock

in Ideology, Psychology, and Law

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780199737512
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199918638 | DOI:

Series: Series in Political Psychology

Legal Interpretation and Intuitions of Public Policy

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Studies of actual judicial decisions and recent experimental work simulating legal decision-making reveal a strong relationship between ideology and judicial decisions. There is also preliminary evidence linking ideology and constitutional interpretation preferences. This chapter proposes that legal decisions’ policy implications generate an automatic, affective response that biases subsequent information processing. The biased processing can involve: positive-testing or searching mostly for information supporting initial beliefs; counter-arguing or more critically scrutinizing information inconsistent with goals; overweighting information consistent with goals and discounting inconsistent information; and biases in storing and retrieving information. This motivated reasoning is more likely to influence decisions when the legal evidence is more ambiguous. As ideology operates through non-conscious cognitive processes, judges cannot identify ideology’s impact, making debiasing difficult.

Keywords: ideology; legal decision making; judicial decision; constitutional interpretation; motivated reasoning; debiasing

Chapter.  8830 words. 

Subjects: Social Psychology

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