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Zurich Experimental Jurisprudence Forum

The Zurich X-Jur Forum is an online forum for new work in experimental jurisprudence

Session 3: Brown (Utah) & Margoni (Oslo)

Date: Sep 2 2022, 16-17.30 (Zurich time) 10-11.30 (New York Time)

Jurors Use Mental State Information to Assess Breach in Negligence Cases

To prove guilt, jurors in many countries must find that the criminal defendant acted with a particular mental state. However, this amateur form of mindreading is not supposed to occur in civil negligence trials. Instead, jurors should decide whether the defendant was negligent by looking only at his actions, and whether they were objectively reasonable under the circumstacnes. Even so, across four pre-registered studies (N=782), we showed that jurors do not focus on actions alone. US mock jurors spontaneously rely on mental state information when evaluating negligence cases. In Study 1, jurors were given three negligence cases to judge, and were asked to evaluate whether a reasonably careful person would have foreseen the risk (foresight) and whether the defendant acted unreasonably (negligence). Across conditions, we also varied the extent and content of additional information about defendant’s subjective mental state: jurors were provided with evidence that the defendant either knew the risk of a harm was high or was low, or were not provided with such information. Foresight and negligence scores increased when mock jurors were told the defendant knew of a high risk, and negligence scores decreased when the defendant knew of a low risk, compared to when no background mental state information was provided. In Study 2, we replicated the finding by using mild (as opposed to severe) harm cases. In Study 3, we tested an intervention aimed at reducing jurors’ reliance on mental states which consisted in raising jurors’ awareness of potential hindsight bias in their evaluations. The intervention reduced mock juror reliance on mental states when assessing foresight when the defendant was described as knowing of a high risk, an effect replicated in Study 4. This research demonstrates that jurors rely on mental states to assess breach, regardless of what the legal doctrine says.

Session 2: Engel & Rahal (Max Planck Institute)

Date: May 10 2022, 16-17.30 (Zurich time) 10-11.30 (New York Time)

What the Judge Argues is Not What the Judge Thinks
Eye Tracking Evidence about the Disconnect Between Judicial Decision-Making and Judicial Reasoning

Lawyers take it for granted that court rulings can normally not be logically derived from first principles. The case requires a willful decision by the person invested with judicial authority. The court must strike a balance between competing, conceptually incompatible normative concerns. We use a combination of behavioral and eye gaze data to investigate the mental mechanism. Without noticing the inconsistency, participants reinterpret normative arguments such that they support their decision. These reinterpretations are not reflected in the frequency or duration of fixations on the competing items presented on a decision screen. However, both explicit reinterpretations and eye gaze predict choices, with about the same accuracy. There are two independent mental effects. Eye gaze is a window into the process that makes the problem tractable, by gradually reinterpreting the arguments. Explicit reinterpretations serve a persuasive purpose. The decision-maker convinces herself, and her intended audience, that her decision is well-founded.

Session 1: Almeida & Knobe (Yale University)

Date: Nov. 17 2021, 16.15-17.45 (Zurich time) 10.15-11.45 (New York Time)

An experimental investigation of purpose attribution

There has been considerable debate in legal philosophy about how to attribute purposes to rules. Separately, within cognitive science, there has been a growing body of research concerned with questions about how people ordinarily attribute purposes. Here, we argue that these two separate fields might be connected by experimental jurisprudence. Across four studies, we find evidence for the claim that people use the same criteria to attribute purposes to physical objects and to rules. In both cases, purpose attributions appear to be governed not so much by original intention or by moral value as by current practice. We argue that these findings in the cognitive science of purpose attribution have implications for jurisprudential questions involving purposivist legal interpretation.

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