The threat of sanctions is often insufficient to ensure compliance with legal norms. Recently, much attention has been given to nudges – choice-preserving measures that take advantage of people’s automatic System 1 thinking – as a means of influencing behaviour without sanctions, but nudges are often ineffective and controversial. This article explores the provision of information about the reasons underlying legal norms, as a means to enhance compliance, primarily through deliberative System 2 thinking. While the idea that legal norms should be accompanied by explanatory preambles – to complement the law’s threat of sanctions with persuasion – goes back to Plato, this technique is not commonly used nowadays, and scholars have failed to systematically consider this possibility. The article argues that reason giving can enhance compliance and reduce the need for costly enforcement mechanisms. The theoretical part of the article comprises three parts. It first describes the mechanisms through which reasons may influence people’s behaviour. It then distinguishes between reason giving as a means to enhance compliance and as a means to attain other goals and between reason giving and related means to enhance compliance. Finally, it discusses various policy and pragmatic considerations that bear on the use of reason giving. Following the theoretical discussion, the empirical part of the article uses vignette studies to demonstrate the feasibility and efficacy of the reason-giving technique. The results of these new studies show that providing good reasons for legal norms enhances people’s inclination to comply with them, in comparison to not providing the reasons underlying the norms. However, whereas persuasive reasons may promote compliance, questionable reasons might reduce it. We call on scholars and policy makers to pay more attention to this readily available measure of enhancing compliance with norms.
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- experimental legal studies
- procedural justice
- reason giving