Gregory Mitchell

Cognitive Styles and Judging

Oxford University Press

UVA Law Faculty Affiliations


An important dimension of judicial decisions little studied by social scientists is the scope of a court’s opinion. Traditional political science studies of judging emphasize the political valence of judicial opinions but do not address the scope with which commands or proclamations are issued. The valence of an opinion is, however, theoretically orthogonal to the scope of an opinion. Differences in the manner in which opinions are written may reflect deep differences in the ways that individual judges understand the causes of human behavior and their own ability to predict behavior and influence it through court action. These deep differences involve what psychologists broadly refer to as variations in “cognitive style,” a psychological construct that has been operationalized in a variety of ways to refer to individuals’ consistent ways of perceiving stimuli, processing information, and thinking about problems. We discuss the importance of cognitive style for understanding judicial behavior.


Gregory Mitchell, Cognitive Styles and Judging, in David Klein & Gregory Mitchell The Psychology of Judicial Decision Making, Oxford University Press, 279–284 (2010).

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