A Moody View of The Law: Looking Back and Looking Ahead at Law and The Emotions

Part of the Nebraska Symposium on Motivation book series (NSM, volume 56)


The current Symposium celebrates 3,400 years of law and emotion. How so? In Leviticus, Chapter 19 Verse 15, judges are instructed to judge rich and poor alike – interestingly, they are, separately, told not to favor the poor and not to favor the rich, but rather to do justice equally. Some interpreters read the prohibition on favoring the poor as trying to ensure that even positive emotions such as sympathy do not bias legal decision-making. Indeed, as this Chapter goes to press, the confirmation hearings for Judge Sonia Sotomayor are highlighting just such issues. Alternatively, we might say that we celebrate more than four centuries of law and emotion: In the late sixteenth century the common law began to recognize the offense of manslaughter, where a killing occurred in the course of a brawl or “chance [or chaunce] medley,” reflecting the passion or emotional state of those engaged in fighting (e.g., Brown 1963; Dressler 1982).1 We might also say that the psychological study of law and emotion is about 100 years old, harking back to the foundational legal psychological work of Hugo Munsterberg (1908) and his study of the biasing impact of emotion on memory and judgment, and of the clues that emotional reactions could give to a defendant’s guilt or innocence.


Moral Judgment Positive Emotion Negative Mood Hate Crime Eminent Domain 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Syracuse University College of LawSyracuseUSA

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