Over the last decade or so, numerous compelling analyses of a broad range of questions relating to international law and institutions have built on particular assumptions of what may be termed ‘perfect’ rationality, roughly conforming to Rational Choice (RC) theory. This is the growing field of economic analysis of public international law, to which the majority of contributions in the present book squarely belong. In many other areas of legal scholarship, however, the value and validity of applying such forms of RC theory to legal and societal questions – generally referred to as ‘Law and Economics’ (L & E) – has no less recently been questioned and contested by empirically grounded streams of cognitive psychology and behavioral economics (Colin 1999; Rabin 1998). These alternative approaches focus on observable, systematic, divergences from the perfect rationality assumed by standard RC (Ulen and Korobkin 2000; Zamir and Teichman 2014). Surprisingly, with very few exceptions, these approaches have not been applied to international legal issues, and no comprehensive methodological framework has been provided for such international research. In this chapter, we explore the potential for the applicability of such behavioral economic analyses to international law. Generally, we contend that a behavioral economic approach, if employed properly and subject to appropriate methodological safeguards, can greatly contribute to international legal research, both by raising interesting hypotheses and theoretical applications relating to problems in international law and by providing frameworks for experimental and empirical testing, with significant explanatory and normative implications.
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