Rainer Banse - „Obeying Rules, Guilt, Justice and Punishment: Psychological Fundamentals of the Legal System“


The written law and the institutions of the legal system are obviously an achievement of culture. However, the mere existence of laws, the definition of criminal acts and our notion of a just punishment are building on psychological processes that are deeply rooted in our evolutionary past. I will present empirical research that has identified a number of these psychological processes, including social emotions (embarrassment, shame and guilt), a fundamental capacity to reciprocate, and a strong motive to do so. These psychological mechanisms enable humans to cooperate with non-relatives, to define and transmit rules of cooperation, and to punish transgressions. This feature of the conditio humana was critical for the development of complex social organizations, and eventually led to the development of a sophisticated legal system. There is evidence that these fundamental psychological mechanisms interact with situational factors (e.g. ecological, political and legal) to produce more or less lawful (or moral) behavior. I will argue that a full understanding of human behavior in the legal system requires to consider both nurture and nature.

Prof. Dr. Rainer Banse

Department of Psychology, Social & Legal Psychology, University of Bonn


Rainer Banse studied psychology in Gießen and subsequently worked at the Université de Genève, where he obtained his doctorate degree in 1995. He obtained his habilitation at the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin in 2001 and was Senior Lecturer at the University of York from 2003 to 2007. Since 2007, Rainer Banse is Professor for Social and Legal Psychology at the University of Bonn.

Rainer Banse is associate editor of the European Psychologist and consulting editor of the journal 'Interpersona' and the European Journal of Personality. Furthermore, Rainer Banse works as an ad hoc expert, inter alia acting on behalf of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and the Economic and Social Research Council.

His current research interests lie in the areas of indirect procedures of measuring sexual preference of sex offenders whose victims are minors, research into aggressive behavior as well as studies into partner attractiveness and relationship satisfaction in arranged marriages.

Rainer Banse authored numerous papers in international journals, including: "Ongoing Victim Suffering Increases Prejudice: The Case of Secondary Antisemitism" (2009, in: Psychological Science), "Developing a test battery to assess determinants of marital relationship satisfaction in Saudi Arabia" (2009, in: Interpersona) and "Working memory and emotion: Detecting the hedonic detector" (2012, in: Journal of Cognitive Psychology).