It’s a pleasure to be here at Concurring Opinions. I would like to thank Dan, Sarah, and Ron for inviting me. During my visit, I hope to talk a bit about my core research areas of land use and local government law (including why you, who are statistically unlikely to be interested in either land use or local government law, should be interested), but also about other issues such as the current state of the legal academy and the legal profession, often using land use or local government law to examine these broader issues.
On Cognitive Biases
On that last note, Slate.com recently ran a great piece by Katy Waldman regarding how the human brain processes information, observing that people have a predilection to believe factual claims that we find easy to process. Waldman synthesizes the results of several interesting studies, including one eye-opening study that identifies three persistent cognitive biases that humans possess. As Waldman summarizes these biases: “First, we reflexively attribute people’s behavior to their character rather than their circumstances.” Second, “we learn more easily when knowledge is arranged hierarchically, so in a pinch we may be inclined to accept fixed status and gender roles.” And third, “we tend to assume that persisting and long-standing states are good and desirable, which stirs our faith in the status quo absent any kind of deep reflection.” The study attributes these biases to the basic human need, rooted in the primitive recesses of our lizard brain (pictured), to manage uncertainty and risk.
While Waldman argues that there is some relationship between these biases and conservative political beliefs, what struck me about these findings is how well the biases describe judicial behavior.