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The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded prestigious Consolidator Grants to Global Professor of Law Benjamin van Rooij. The grants, awarded to individual researchers, are worth about 2 million euros each.

Law plays a major role in improving human and organizational behaviour. Potentially law can help us address some of the most pressing issues of our times, including police misconduct, environmental pollution, gang crime, sexual harassment, and financial fraud. For law to play this role it must play an ex-ante function, meaning that law must influence behaviour in the future. Benjamin van Rooij will instigate a behavioural revolution in the field of law by carrying out a critical analysis of current legal thinking with respect to behaviour.

All too often legal thinking and practice focuses on the ex-post function where it debates what the proper rules and procedures are for assigning liability after bad behaviour has occurred. And as law lacks a proper focus on changing future behaviour lawyers never get proper training into scientific insights about human and organizational conduct. This means that law has so far not incorporated core insights from social and behavioural sciences that have revolutionised our understanding of how law can reduce misconduct.

Through these insights we learn that stronger punishment alone is often not a sufficient condition to improve conduct, and at worse can make behaviour worse and create more crime. It shows that for law to be successful it must operate a wider array of behavioural mechanisms, including incorporating social norms and morals, tapping into unconscious cognition, applying practical and technical interventions that obstruct misconduct, and addressing organizational processes that sustain toxic corporate cultures.

At this moment lawyers who play behavioural roles, such as prosecutors, regulators and compliance managers rely on their own assumptions about how their work can improve behaviour. Van Rooij’s research will empirically study whether the behavioural assumptions of these lawyers match existing scientific knowledge. His research team will map the biases and misconceptions in lawyerly behavioural thinking. They will do so through local fieldwork in California, New York, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and China. This will culminate in a behavioural jurisprudence that corrects flawed behavioural assumptions in the field of law. With this, the project aims to stimulate a behavioural revolution in the field of law, just like behavioural economics did for traditional economic thinking.

About the Consolidator Grant

The Consolidator Grant is meant for researchers who obtained their PhDs between 7 and 12 years ago. The grants enable researchers to consolidate their position as independent researchers.

Press release ERC