Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lynn Stout's "Cultivating Conscience"

Lynn Stout is the Paul Hastings Professor of Corporate and Securities Law at the UCLA School of Law. She is the coauthor of several books and a frequent commentator for NPR, PBS, and the Wall Street Journal.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Cultivating Conscience: How Good Laws Make Good People, and reported the following:
Cultivating Conscience deals with a very basic question: What’s the best way to get people to behave themselves? Experts often assume people are basically selfish creatures who respond only to punishments and rewards, and who can’t be trusted to do a good job or refrain from lying, cheating and stealing unless given the right “incentives.” Yet every day we see people behaving ethically and unselfishly--few of us mug the elderly or steal the paper from our neighbor's yard, and many of us go out of our way to help strangers. We nevertheless overlook the good aspects of our own natures and fixate on the bad things people do and how we can stop them.

Cultivating Conscience argues that this focus on bad behavior obscures the reality, and importance, of goodness, leading us to neglect the crucial role our better impulses could play in shaping society. It explores the idea that, rather than leaning on the power of greed to channel human behavior, our laws and policies might often do better to focus on and promote the force of conscience--the cheapest and most effective police force one could ask for.

Drawing from behavioral economics, social psychology, and evolutionary biology, Cultivating Conscience demonstrates that, far from being rare and quirky, conscientious behavior (or, as a behavioral scientist might put it, unselfish prosocial behavior) is both common and predictable. Page 99 offers a simple recipe for promoting conscientious behavior by using certain social cues—especially instructions from authority, beliefs about others’ selfishness or unselfishness, and perceptions of benefits to others—to trigger unselfish prosocial behavior. This approach helps us predict when most people will “follow their conscience,” and also when they won’t. It also allows us to better understand of how laws and rules shape human behavior. Cultivating Conscience offers a guide to cultivating ethical and cooperative behavior that can be employed not only by lawmakers and legal experts, but also by employers, educators, management specialists, charitable organizations, and civic leaders.
Read an excerpt from Cultivating Conscience, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue