A long-standing puzzle in comparative constitutional law revolves around the negative correlation between the number of constitutional rights incorporated in constitutions and a coun-try’s human rights situation. Is it only a correlation, driven by other sociological or historical factors? Is it that committing to more de jure rights hurts the protection of de facto human rights? Or is it that countries with worse human rights records are more likely to amend their constitutions to include more rights? This article discusses an experiment that examines the existence and direction of a causal effect between setting overly ambitious goals and achieving outcomes and the potential mechanisms underlying it. The main finding is that setting overly ambitious goals may not only be counterproductive in the domains in which such goals are set but may also have a negative spillover effect to other domains.
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The authors are grateful to Kevin Cope, Christoph Engel, Jeffrey Flory, Jens Franken-reiter, Eric Talley, and Mila Versteeg for comments on earlier drafts. We are also grateful to the participants of the 2020 symposium Measuring Impact in Constitutional Law and to seminar audiences at the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods in Bonn; ETH Zurich; the University of California, Los Angeles, Law School; the University of Michigan Law School; the 2019 Conference on Empirical Legal Studies; the 2019 European Association of Law and Economics conference; the 2019 Conference on Empirical Studies of Public Law and Human Rights; the 2019 International Conference on Empirical Legal Studies (Sichuan University Law School); and the 2019 conference Behavioral Legal Studies: Cognition, Motivation, and Moral Judgment (Hebrew University of Jerusa-lem). We thank Ashly Eckerling, David Gerber, Camille Glaus, Tahel Gruenwald, Henry Kim, Devendra Shintre, and Joris Stemmle for excellent research assistance. We are grateful to Stefan Wehrli for his logistical support and advice in running the study using the infrastructure of the Decision Science Laboratory at ETH Zurich and to Serge von Steiger and Lucas Gericke for proofreading the page proofs.
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