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Homo Juridicus: Correcting Law's Behavioural Illiteracy

Project description

Increasing the efficacy of law

Legal research has demonstrated that strict punishment does not dissuade unlawful actions. Interventions promoting the behavioural change of inmates are more effective, but new legislation has brought harsher penalties. This is because legal systems do not recognise the central role conduct plays and have not elaborated behavioural legal theory. The EU-funded HomoJuridicus project will study how laws influence unlawfulness. It will analyse faults and prejudices that affect lawyers’ perceptions and will elaborate a behavioural jurisprudence aiming to increase the efficacy of law in improving behaviour.


Recent scientific research has revolutionised our understanding of how law can reduce misconduct. It shows that legal incentives are often flawed, and that strict punishment alone cannot deter misbehaviour. It offers a new approach for law to address wrongdoing, incorporating social norms and morals, tapping into unconscious cognition, and applying practical and technical interventions that obstruct misconduct. Yet, these fundamental insights continue to be ignored, and with every new disaster, scandal or major risk, we produce more rules with stronger punishment, without successfully addressing the true behavioural mechanisms at fault. The core problem is that the field of law has not made conduct central, nor produced a behavioural legal theory to guide these scientific insights into legal research, education and practice. As a result, legal rules to code conduct are made and operated by lawyers that are behaviourally illiterate. The proposed research will instigate the necessary behavioural revolution in the field of law. To do so, it will develop a behavioural jurisprudence through three steps. First, it will provide a comprehensive synthesis of the scientific insights about how legal rules affect misconduct. Second, it will empirically analyse flaws and biases in the behavioural assumptions of lawyers tasked with addressing misconduct. This will produce a fundamental critique of existing legal thinking, to be summarized in the Homo Juridicus, shorthand for the flawed legal model of human conduct just like behavioural economics helped produce the Homo Economicus to show the fallacies in traditional economic thinking. Third, the research will synthesize this into a behavioural jurisprudence offering a normative framework that makes successful internalization of positive conduct central in the field of law, and that guides legal research and education to incorporate the social science to enhance the effectiveness of law to improve behaviour.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 999 405,00
1012WX Amsterdam

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West-Nederland Noord-Holland Groot-Amsterdam
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 999 405,00

Beneficiaries (1)