We thank the editors and anonymous reviewers for helpful comments. In addition, we thank Brad Canon, Paul Collins, Chris Olds, James Pennebaker, and Rick Waterman for helpful advice or comments on earlier versions of this article. An earlier version was presented at the 2013 Midwest Political Science Association and the 2013 Kentucky Political Science Association. All mistakes are our own.
The (Dis)Advantage of Certainty: The Importance of Certainty in Language
Article first published online: 27 JAN 2014
© 2014 Law and Society Association
Law & Society Review
Volume 48, Issue 1, pages 35–62, March 2014
How to Cite
Corley, P. C. and Wedeking, J. (2014), The (Dis)Advantage of Certainty: The Importance of Certainty in Language. Law & Society Review, 48: 35–62. doi: 10.1111/lasr.12058
- Issue published online: 27 JAN 2014
- Article first published online: 27 JAN 2014
How can legal decision makers increase the likelihood of a favorable response from other legal and social actors? To answer this, we propose a novel theory based on the certainty expressed in language that is applicable to many different legal contexts. The theory is grounded in psychology and legal advocacy and suggests that expressing certainty enhances the persuasiveness of a message. We apply this theory to the principal–agent framework to examine the treatment of Supreme Court precedent by the Federal Courts of Appeal. We find that as the level of certainty in the Supreme Court's opinion increases, the lower courts are more likely to positively treat the Court's decision. We then discuss the implications of our findings for using certainty in a broader context.