Original Article

Law and Human Behavior

pp 1-15

First online:

Abstract Principles and Concrete Cases in Intuitive Lawmaking

  • Ira Mark EllmanAffiliated withSandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University Email author 
  • , Sanford L. BraverAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, Arizona State University
  • , Robert J. MacCounAffiliated withSchools of Public Policy and Law, University of California


Citizens awaiting jury service were asked a series of items, in Likert format, to determine their endorsement of various statements about principles to use in setting child support amounts. These twenty items were derived from extant child support systems, from past literature and from Ellman and Ellman’s (2008) Theory of Child Support. The twenty items were found to coalesce into four factors (principles). There were pervasive gender differences in respondent’s endorsement of the principles. More importantly, three of these four principles were systematically reflected, in very rational (if complex) ways, in the respondents’ resolution of the individual child support cases they were asked to decide. Differences among respondents in their endorsement of these three principles accounted for differences in their patterns of child support judgments. It is suggested that the pattern of coherent arbitrariness (Ariely et al., Q J Econ 118(1):73–105, 2003) in those support judgments, noted in an earlier study (Ellman, Braver, & MacCoun, 2009) is thus partially explained, in that the seeming arbitrariness of respondents’ initial support judgments reflect in part their differing views about the basic principles that should decide the cases.


Child support Decision-making Judgments Family law Moral intuition