The effects of priming legal concepts on perceived trust and competitiveness, self-interested attitudes, and competitive behavior

Mitchell J. Callan, Aaron C. Kay, James M Olson, Novjyot Brar, Nicole Whitefield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Citations (Scopus)


Socio-legal scholars have suggested that, as a ubiquitous social system, law shapes social reality and provides interpretive frameworks for social relations. Across five studies, we tested the idea that the law shapes social reality by fostering the assumptions that people are self-interested, untrustworthy, and competitive. In Studies 1 and 2, we found that people implicitly associated legal concepts with competitiveness. Studies 3-5 showed that these associations had implications for social perceptions, self-interested attitudes, and competitive behavior. After being primed with constructs related to the law, participants perceived social actors as less trustworthy and the situation as more competitive (Study 3), became more against a political issue when it conflicted with their normative self-interest (Study 4), and made more competitive choices during a prisoner's dilemma game when they believed that social relations were basically zero-sum in nature (Study 5). The implications and applications of these results are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)325-335
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2010



  • Competitiveness
  • Interpersonal trust
  • Legal consciousness
  • Priming
  • Psycho-legal
  • Psychology of law
  • Self-interest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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