Paper: Law and Social Cognition (Spellman and Schauer)

The body of research on law and psychology is vast, but the overwhelming proportion of it is on jury decision making, especially in criminal cases. In this chapter for the forthcoming Oxford Handbook on Social Cognition (D. Carlston ed.), we attempt to broaden this research agenda. We survey briefly the existing state of psychological research on jury decision making, but show that, even with respect to factual determinations, the jury is a less important decision maker than most psychologists appear to believe. Thus, further research on factual determination by judges, of which there is some but not much, could substantially enrich our understanding of the psychological dimensions of legal decision making. Moreover, the role of judges in finding, interpreting, and applying the law is itself a task necessarily involving social cognition, and we explain both this connection and how further research on the social cognition dimensions of legal reasoning and legal argument could be highly valuable. Finally, we explain how numerous issues of substantive law – questions of intent, reasonableness, and knowledge, to give just a few examples – are themselves dependent on assumptions about the social and cognitive psychological reasoning of the people affected and governed by the law. There is very little psychology research on such questions, and the agenda of law and psychology could usefully be expanded to include such themes.

Keywords: juries, jury decision making, judicial decision making, and law and psychology

Suggested Citation: Spellman, Barbara A. and Schauer, Frederick, Law and Social Cognition (January 7, 2012). Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2012-10. Available at SSRN:

Place #2 in TOP 10 Papers for Journal of CSN: Law (Topic)
February 8, 2012 to April 8, 2012


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