Focal Point Theory Test of Behavior and Attitudes (ICPSR 24721)

Published: Aug 26, 2009

Principal Investigator(s):
Janice Nadler, Northwestern University School of Law and American Bar Foundation; Richard McAdams, University of Illinois College of Law

Version V1

Economic theories of legal compliance emphasize legal sanctions, whereas psychological and sociological theories stress the perceived legitimacy of law. Without disputing the importance of either mechanism, this study tests a third way that law affects behavior, an expressive theory that claims law influences behavior by creating a focal point around which individuals coordinate. The study examined how various forms of third-party "cheap talk" influence the behavior of subjects in a Hawk/Dove or Chicken game. Despite the players' conflicting interests, it was found that messages highlighting an equilibrium tend to produce that outcome. Most striking, this result emerged even when the message was selected by an overtly random, mechanical process. A similar result was obtained when the message was delivered by a third-party subject; the latter effect was significantly stronger than the former only when the subject speaker was selected by a merit-based process. These results suggest that, in certain circumstances, law generates compliance not only by sanctions and legitimacy, but also by facilitating coordination around a focal outcome.

Nadler, Janice, and McAdams, Richard. Focal Point Theory Test of Behavior and Attitudes. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2009-08-26.

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National Science Foundation (NSF SES-0351530)

American Bar Foundation

Northwestern University. Dispute Resolution Research Center


To investigate an alternate way of how law affects behavior.

Convenience sampling.

Undergraduate students at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.


experimental data

on-site questionnaire



2009-08-26 ICPSR data undergo a confidentiality review and are altered when necessary to limit the risk of disclosure. ICPSR also routinely creates ready-to-go data files along with setups in the major statistical software formats as well as standard codebooks to accompany the data. In addition to these procedures, ICPSR performed the following processing steps for this data collection:

  • Performed consistency checks.
  • Checked for undocumented or out-of-range codes.


  • Data in this collection are available only to users at ICPSR member institutions.

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