Framed by the Law: Experimental Evidence for the Effects of the Salience of the Law on Preferences

Theoretical Inquiries in Law 22 (2):21-34 (2021)
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This Article takes an experimental approach to test whether the salience of the law as a system that governs an interaction affects people’s preferences. I find that when the law is made salient in an interaction people’s preferences are altered: they express more future-oriented preferences and donate less money to charity, as compared to when the law is not salient in an otherwise identical interaction. When the law is salient in an interaction people also prefer ‘products’ over experiences, but this gap is only marginally significant. The findings suggest that the framing of an interaction as legal tends to evoke cultural scripts and implicit rules of behavior (“common knowledge”) that incorporate the shared assumptions in society about the law. In response, participants interpret the interaction as more rational and instrumental and express preferences accordingly.



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