Psychology of legal decision-making

In the Psychology of Legal Decision-Making seminar, students learn about substantive areas of legal scholarship and also practice essential skills for understanding—and even developing—new empirical research.

The impact of innovative legal scholarship can be profound. Thoughtfully presented new ideas—especially those that transcend disciplinary boundaries—can serve as critical tools for advocates as they push our legal system forward toward a more just future.

Penn Carey Law students in the legal seminar.
Image: Courtesy of Penn Carey Law

In the Psychology of Legal Decision-Making seminar, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School students have the opportunity to dive right into this world. Under the guidance of co-lecturers William A. Schnader Professor of Law David Hoffman and Golkin Family Professor and professor of psychology Tess Wilkinson-Ryan, students interact with scholars from across the country who are working on cutting-edge interdisciplinary research.

“The best version of what academics do is that they give each other constructive feedback and try to make each other’s intellectual projects more rich and more rigorous,” Hoffman says. “That’s what we encourage the students to do in this course.”

Substantively, the course introduces students to several foundational topics in psychology that come up again and again in law, like social perception and loss aversion. But both Hoffman and Wilkinson-Ryan underscored that the point of the course is not just to teach legal psychology, but rather to use that substance as a means of encouraging students to adeptly read legal scholarship and actively participate in the production of new knowledge.

“Penn Carey Law graduates will have to read empirical work in parts of their professional lives,” Wilkinson-Ryan says. “This course is a great way to develop the skill of reading empirical scholarship and thinking about what the purpose of the scholarship is. As attorneys and citizens, when they’re reading an article about the statistics of something in the world, they will have to ask, ‘How did these statistics come about? How do we find them? Do I trust them?’”

Over the course of the semester, students get to meet and engage with scholars who are actively honing their research and ideas.

Read more at Penn Carey Law.