Universiteit Leiden

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Empirical Legal Studies

Legal decision making in liability law and financial regulation

The starting point for this research project is the notion that the human brain is susceptible to all kinds of fallacies and biases that affect our perceptions and influence our reasoning outside of our conscious awareness. Indeed, most people think they are merely observing facts and that they process these in a rational, objective way to form judgements and make decisions.

In the field of law, perceptions and decisions that are erroneously affected by unconscious biases can have far-reaching consequences. Consider for example the question of whether a type of damage (e.g. economic or personal injury) was foreseeable, or whether a director’s actions played an important role in causing a company to go bankrupt, or whether certain information was of such a material nature that a reasonable investor would make use of it when taking investment decisions. Judgements about foreseeability, causality, and reasonableness are particularly susceptible to human biases. Research by Niek Strohmaier has shown that especially moral and normative judgements can influence these kinds of legally relevant issues. This interdisciplinary and empirical research project draws on insights from moral philosophy, cognitive psychology, and insolvency law in particular.

Niek’s line of research focuses on three topics. First, Niek empirically investigates which biases might affect legal judgments in the context of directors’ liability and in the context of regulating financial markets. Second, by conducting experimental research, Niek aims to increase our understanding of the mechanisms underlying certain biases. Third, his research explores how we might be able to minimize the unwanted impact of biases in legal judgments and decision making.


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