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Follow the leader? Testing for the internalization of law

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Luca Panzone



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by University of Chicago Press, 2019.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


The internalization of law is said to be a process that involves a change in people’s intrinsic motivation to act in accord with law’s obligations – so that it is possible to observe imposed obligations become individual choices. We empirically test for this phenomenon, by attempting to disentangle the impacts of a legal change (a 5 pence charge on use of plastic bags) on intrinsic motivation and individual choice. We do so by measuring both behaviors and attitudes before and after the legal change, and by comparing the impacts across neighboring jurisdictions without the change. Using a differences-in-differences estimator we find evidence for the internalization of law: that is, we find a significant increase in intrinsic motivation for using fewer new bags for those consumers subject to the implementation of the legislative change, and link this change in intrinsic motivation to an actual change in behavior. However, using mediation analysis we find that internalization of the law only explains around 5 to 7% of the change in behavior – the rest being attributable to the direct effect of the charge.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Larcom ST, Panzone L, Swanson T

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Legal Studies

Year: 2019

Volume: 48

Issue: 1

Pages: 217-244

Print publication date: 11/01/2019

Online publication date: 11/01/2019

Acceptance date: 11/01/2019

Date deposited: 19/06/2019

ISSN (print): 0047-2530

ISSN (electronic): 1537-5366

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


DOI: 10.1086/699817


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