September 23, 2011

Law and Narrative

Lea B. Vaughn, University of Washington School of Law, is publishing Feeling at Home: Law, Cognitive Science, and Narrative in the McGeorge Law Review. Here is the abstract.

What is the “how and why” of law’s affinity for narrative? In order to explain why the use of stories is such an effective teaching and presentation strategy in the law, this paper will consider theories and accounts from cognitive as well as evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, and, briefly, cultural anthropology. This account seeks to address “how” narrative helps us learn and use the law as well as “why” we are so compelled to use stories in teaching and in practice. 

Brain science, simplified here, suggests that the first task is to “grab” someone’s attention. Emotionally charged events are more likely to capture our attention and to be remembered. Because of their emotional content, stories and narrative (which will be used interchangeably here) seize the attention of listeners and readers, students and jurors. In turn, this emotional fixation focuses attention on context and meaning. Studies suggest that this context is the platform that allows later and successive integration of details. Thus, stories “work” because they focus attention and provide a context for learning the “details,” i.e., the law. Moreover, the same principles that apply to the success of using stories in the classroom also bear fruit in practice. Our culture, and perhaps our genetic make-up, compel us to use stories as a way to both comprehend and transmit the law.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.

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