New study offers clues to origin of laws

February 24, 2020

ORLANDO, Feb. 24, 2020 - Speculation about where laws come from ranges from crediting judges and legal scholars to God.

However new research co-authored by a University of Central Florida researcher and appearing in the journal Nature Human Behaviour today offers evidence that criminal laws come from an intuitive and shared, universal sense of justice that humans possess.

"We sometimes think of the law as this completely rational enterprise that is the result of wise experts sitting around a table and working from logical principles," says Carlton Patrick, an assistant professor in the University of Central Florida's Department of Legal Studies and study co-author. "And instead, what this study suggests is that these intuitions that people tend to share about justice may be the things that are becoming institutionalized."

Patrick and Daniel Sznycer, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Montreal and the study's lead author, made the finding by comparing modern and ancient people's sense of whether a punishment fits a crime.

And while previous studies have examined people's intuitions about justice, this is the first one that compared them across thousands of years.

Using participants from the United States and India, the researchers had people rate offenses from one of three legal codes: the Laws of Eshnunna, Sumerian laws from nearly 3,800 years ago; the Tang Code, Chinese laws from nearly 1,400 years ago; and the Criminal Code of Pennsylvania, which reflects modern U.S. laws.

Participants were shown the offenses, but not the punishments that the law established.

The crimes ranged from ancient offenses, such as not keeping an ox in check, which caused a person to be gored, to modern ones, such as assault.

Some participants were asked to determine the appropriate fines for each offense, while others were asked to determine prison sentences.

The researchers found that the more seriously modern people judged a crime to be, the higher the actual legal punishment for the crime.

This was despite participants living in different countries and legal codes that were separated by thousands of years.

"The match between participants' intuitions and ancient laws was notable," Sznycer says.

"Criminal laws, like the writing that supports those laws, are cultural inventions: present in some societies, absent in others," he says. "However, this new research adds empirical weight to the possibility that the capacity to make laws--the brain mechanisms that appraise offenses and generate justice intuitions--are universal, and a part of human nature."

Patrick says the study is an important step in helping to demystify the origin of laws.

"I think what this study does is lead us into the black box a little bit," he says. "It removes one layer of the shroud of mystery that surrounds the lawmaking process, and it also gets us closer to understanding why we sometimes feel that something's wrong, even when we can't explain why."
-end-
Patrick received his law degree from Boston University School of Law, his doctorate and master's in psychology from the University of Miami and his bachelor's from Florida State University. He joined UCF's Department of Legal Studies, which is a part of UCF's College of Community Innovation and Education, in 2018.

CONTACT: Robert H. Wells, Office of Research, 407-823-0861, robert.wells@ucf.edu

University of Central Florida

Related Science Articles from Brightsurf:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.

Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.

Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.

World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.

PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.

Read More: Science News and Science Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.