Monthly Archives: July 2015

Scholarship Update

WritingRobert Prentice, whose excellent online resource, Ethics Unwrapped, we have profiled here many times, is one of the leading thinkers and writers on the pedagogy of behavioral ethics.  His newest article, co-written by Minette Drumwright and Cara Biasucci, is entitled Behavioral Ethics and Teaching Ethical Decision Making.  The published version is available behind a pay wall here.  A downloadable draft version is available here.   Highly recommended!


The First (Annual?) BLE Film Festival

Verite_student_film_festival_color.psd_2To my delight, this year has turned into a festival of sorts for a wonderful set of new films about social psychology, behavioral science and ethics.  As we’ve discussed previously, Dan Ariely’s new film, (Dis)honesty: The Truth About Lies, has been released to favorable reviews (e.g., here and here).

In addition, an amazing actor, Billy Crudup (find and watch Jesus’ Son if you haven’t), is starring as Philip Zimbardo in the soon-to-be released film version of the Stanford Prison Experiment. Here’s a fascinating interview with Dr. Zimbardo about the film and his work.

Last, but certainly not least, Stanley Milgram’s famous experiments and life story have come to the silver screen in Experimenter, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January (a trailer for the movie is here; review here) and is on the film festival circuit. It stars the wonderful Peter Sarsgaard as Milgram (I’ve been a big Sarsgaard fan since his recurring role on The Killing) and Winona Ryder as Milgram’s wife. When the film will be released for general viewing, I do not know – soon, I hope! (stay tuned for updates on Twitter: #experimenter).

Update 07/17/15:  MSNBC’s interview with Billy Crudup about the Stanford Prison Experiment is here.

Update: 07/27/15:  And now one more film  . . .  As the New York Times reported this weekend, the Kitty Genovese case — which has generated so much publicity over the last fifty years (and controversy about how it was reported) and made the Bystander Effect a household name — is the subject of a new film, entitled 37Here is the trailer. Stay tuned.

Teaching Confidentiality . . . and Confirmation Bias

confidentialityWhen I teach confidentiality in my legal ethics class, I start by surveying my students – all in their second year of law school – on their views about the importance of confidentiality as a lawyering value. The responses each year have been largely uniform, with the students ranking the need to preserve confidential information at or near 9 out of 10 – in other words, my students start our discussion with an expectation that client confidentiality is well worth protecting.

Why this survey? Because I want the students to have some sense of how their preconceptions will impact our subsequent discussions, including their views on how, as lawyers, they might exercise their discretion to make permissible disclosures under Model Rule 1.6(b). For example, I want my students to have some sense of how their predispositions on confidentiality might influence their decision under MR 1.6(b)(1) on whether disclosure would prevent “reasonably certain death or serious bodily harm,” or under MR 1.6(b)(2) and (3) on whether a lawyer’s services have been used to cause “substantial injury to the financial interests or property of another.”

To drive the point home, we discuss the psychology of confirmation bias, a ubiquitous phenomenon that reveals the tendency we all possess to seek out, interpret and remember information in a manner that is consistent with our preexisting views.  In previous years, I have introduced the power of confirmatory reasoning by asking my students to participate in a variation of the  Card Selection Task, one of the famous experiments designed by Peter Wason to demonstrate confirmation bias. More recently, however, I have found another experiment, also designed by Wason, that I think is even more powerful.  For those unfamiliar with this experiment, known as the “2, 4, 6 Task,” it was profiled on the front page of yesterday’s New York Times in an article describing the pernicious influence of confirmation bias in spheres such as governmental policy and corporate decision-making.  For those who have not read it, I encourage you to do so.  If nothing else, it’s a lot of fun (for those looking for other ways to teach this material, you might find this video helpful as well). Enjoy!