Professor Dan Kahan - Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law & Professor of Psychology at Yale Law School 

Link to Podcast


This series of lectures will use the laws of cognition to cast a critical eye on the cognition of law. Using experimental data, statistical models, and other sources, the lectures will probe how legal decisionmakers perceive facts and law and how the public perceives what legal decisionmakers are doing.  The unifying theme of the lectures will be that simply doing impartial law is insufficient to communicate the law’s impartiality to those who must obey it, and hence insufficient to deliver the assurance of neutrality on which the law’s legitimacy depends.  The lecture series will propose a new science of law the aim of which is to endow law with the resources necessary to bridge this critical gap between professional and lay perspectives.

Dan Kahan is the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law & Professor of Psychology at Yale Law School. His primary research interests are risk perception and science communication. He is a member of the Cultural Cognition Project, an interdisciplinary team of scholars who use empirical methods to examine the impact of group values on perceptions of risk and related facts. In studies funded by the National Science Foundation, his research has investigated public disagreement over climate change, public reactions to emerging technologies, and conflicting public impressions of scientific consensus. Articles featuring the Project’s studies have appeared in a variety of peer-reviewed scholarly journals including the Journal of Risk Research, Judgment and Decision Making, Nature Climate Change, Science, and Nature. He is a Senior Fellow at the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


This lecture will present a simple model for systematizing the interaction between mechanisms of cognition and legal decisionmaking.  It will then use the model to examine the specific case of how cultural cognition affects legal decisionmaking.  The research in this area, I will argue, furnishes reasonable grounds to suspect that legal decisionmakers—juries, in particular—are liable to biased decisionmaking that undermines the goals of accuracy and liberal neutrality. But even more decisively, the research supports the conclusion that the law lacks the resources (at present, anyway) for communicating accuracy and fairness to culturally diverse citizens, who as a result of cultural cognition will perceive legal decisionmaking to be mistaken and unfair no matter how accurate and impartial it actually is. This is the law’s “neutrality communication problem,” which is akin to science’s “validity communication problem on issues like climate change.