The Behavioral Code: The Hidden Ways the Law Makes Us Better . or Worse
An American Psychology-Law Society’s Lawrence S. Wrightsman Book Award Winner
A 2022 PROSE Award finalist in Legal Studies and Criminology
A 2022 American Bar Association Silver Gavel Award Finalist
A Behavioral Scientist’s Notable Book of 2021
Freakonomics for the law—how applying behavioral science to the law can fundamentally change and explain misbehavior
Why do most Americans wear seatbelts but continue to speed even though speeding fines are higher? Why could park rangers reduce theft by removing “no stealing” signs? Why was a man who stole 3 golf clubs sentenced to 25 years in prison?
Some laws radically change behavior whereas others are consistently ignored and routinely broken. And yet we keep relying on harsh punishment against crime despite its continued failure.
Professors Benjamin van Rooij and Adam Fine draw on decades of research to uncover the behavioral code: the root causes and hidden forces that drive human behavior and our responses to society’s laws. In doing so, they present the first accessible analysis of behavioral jurisprudence, which will fundamentally alter how we understand the connection between law and human behavior.
The Behavioral Code offers a necessary and different approach to battling crime and injustice that is based in understanding the science of human misconduct—rather than relying on our instinctual drive to punish as a way to shape behavior. The book reveals the behavioral code’s hidden role through illustrative examples like:
• The illusion of the US’s beloved tax refund
• German walls that “pee back” at public urinators
• The $1,000 monthly “good behavior” reward that reduced gun violence
• Uber’s backdoor “Greyball” app that helped the company evade Seattle’s taxi regulators
• A $2.3 billion legal settlement against Pfizer that revealed how whistleblower protections fail to reduce corporate malfeasance
• A toxic organizational culture playing a core role in Volkswagen’s emissions cheating scandal
• How Peter Thiel helped Hulk Hogan sue Gawker into oblivion
Revelatory and counterintuitive, The Behavioral Code catalyzes the conversation about how the law can effectively improve human conduct and respond to some of our most pressing issues today, from police misconduct to corporate malfeasance.
Praise for The Behavioral Code: The Hidden Ways the Law Makes Us Better . or Worse
“A timely contribution to the ever-growing literature on the use of behavioural sciences in regulatory governance (and public policy more broadly).”
—From the Regulatory Frontlines
"The entire book is an exposition on shaping laws and codes to “human and organizational behavior” that should be a foundational part of any compliance library."
"...this book is treading new ground by diving much deeper into the value that behaviorally oriented research has to offer to regulatory governance. It is a much needed contribution to the literature on how insights from behaviorally oriented research can be used more fully to improve the quality of law and regulation."
—Regulation and Governance
“A fascinating book with crucial implications—from the successes and dysfunctions of entire societies to our own everyday behavior.”
—Robert M. Sapolsky, author of Behave
“This brilliant and foundational text, beautifully written and compelling, will launch a long-needed movement. . . . The current system is deeply unjust; this book points a clear way to making it much more just.”
—Lawrence Lessig, Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership, Harvard Law School
“An excellent and urgent reminder of how behavioral science is essential to our understanding of law.”
—Robert B. Cialdini, author of Influence and Pre-Suasion
“Accessible, timely, and compelling, The Behavioral Code explores the vast literature concerning punishment and provides a blueprint for reforming the criminal justice system.”
—Erwin Chemerinsky, dean, UC Berkeley School of Law
“Through fresh and fascinating analysis, The Behavioral Code has the potential to lead policymakers to make wiser decisions to pass laws that make the most sense given how humans actually behave.”
—Max H. Bazerman, author of Better, Not Perfect and Blind Spots
“If you’ve ever dreamed of a legal system that’s informed by behavioral science, this book could very well move us one step closer to making your dream a reality.”
—Adam Grant, author of Think Again and host of the TED podcast WorkLife
“A fantastically engaging look at how legal codes—from how we drive to how we serve food to how we reduce harm—guide every aspect of our lives. . . . Anyone who cares about making our society a safer place should read this book.”
—Elizabeth F. Loftus, former president, Association for Psychological Science
“Van Rooij and Fine challenge us to a new mindset, one that tests our theories and intuitions with scientific methods and empirical evidence.”
—Hui Chen, former Compliance Counsel Expert, US Department of Justice
“Whether the issue is wearing a face mask, complying with a police request, or accepting the results of an election, the ability to motivate people to follow rules is central to the viability of our own, or any other, society. . . . An engagingly written, timely, and compelling read.”
—Tom Tyler, Macklin Fleming Professor of Law and professor of psychology, Yale University