Article by Benjamin van Rooij and Adam Fine: “Laws are supposed to protect us. At work, they should eliminate unsafe working conditions and harassment. On our streets, they should curb speeding, distracted driving, and driving under the influence. And throughout our countries, they should protect citizens against their own governments.
The law is the most important behavioral system we have. Yet it is designed and operated by behavioral novices. Lawyers draft legislation, interpret rules, and create policies, but legal training does not teach them how laws affect human and organizational behavior.
Law needs a behavioral revolution, like the one that rocked the field of economics. There is now a large body of empirical work that calls into question the traditional legal assumptions about how law shapes behavior. This empirical work also offers a path forward. It can help lawyers and others shaping the law understand the law’s behavioral impact and help align its intended influence on behavior to its actual effects.
For instance, the law has traditionally focused on punishment as a means to deal with harmful behavior. Yet there is no conclusive evidence that threats of incarceration or fines reduce misconduct. Most people do not understand or know the law, and thus never come to weigh the law’s incentives in deciding whether to comply with it.
The law also fails to account for the social and moral factors that affect how people interpret and follow it. For instance, social norms—what people see others do or think others hold they should do—can shape what we think the laws say. Research also shows that people are more likely to follow rules they deem legitimate, and that rules that are made and enforced in a procedurally just and fair manner enhance compliance.
And, traditionally, the law has focused on motivational aspects of wrongdoing. But behavioral responses to the law are highly situational. Here, work in criminology, particularly within environmental criminology, shows that criminal opportunities are a chief driver of criminal behavior. Relatedly, when people have their needs met, for instance when they have a livable wage or sufficient schooling, they are more likely to follow the law…(More)”.