Niek Strohmaier started working on his PhD research in March 2016 within the department of Business studies at the Faculty of Law. His research focus is on cognitive biases in legal decision making.
Niek completed both his Bachelor studies and Research Master studies (cum laude) in Social/Cognitive Psychology at Utrecht University. Before commencing with his PhD studies, Niek left academia to join a start-up business in the Executive Search Industry in the UK. After two fruitful years, Niek returned to academia and joined the department of Business Studies at the Leiden Law School.
Since joining our law school, Niek’s research shifted from fundamental cognitive psychology to more applied research. In his work, Niek combines insights from philosophy, moral psychology and law to investigate legal decision making processes in the context of insolvency law, using experimental research designs. Legal professionals are trained to consider the facts to incorporate only relevant factors in their judgments and decision. Advances in psychological research, however, have pointed out that judgment and decision-making processes can be subject to cognitive errors and mental shortcuts, so-called ‘heuristics and biases’. These heuristics often evolved to facilitate and speed-up cognitive processes, but they can also lead people’s judgments to go astray under conditions of uncertainty or time-constraints. In such cases, seemingly irrelevant factors can significantly influence people’s judgments, causing people to deviate from the rational norm.
This research investigates to what extent cognitive biases influence legal professionals’ judgments in the context of business failure and director liability. The difficulty in such cases is that judgments need to be made in hindsight. That is, while the outcome of a certain course of events is known. When evaluations of ex-ante decisions are influenced by ex-post information, this is called ‘outcome bias’. Special attention is given to how judgments, concerning for example foreseeability, proximate cause, and ultimately liability, are influenced by ex-post information. In addition, the research investigates whether individual factors, such as personality and beliefs influence the impact of outcome information on judgments and which mechanisms can be deployed to protect oneself from biases.