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When two tribes go to law: the moral foundations theory and the Brexit negotiations.

Smith, David S.



Complex negotiations are done by people and are often carried out in pursuit of culturally ingrained ideas such as international unity or national sovereignty. As such, they may be subject to the sorts of adaptive biases and reasoning heuristics that are present at the level of individual or collective decision making. The following commentary applies an influential model of intuitive ethics, The Moral Foundations Theory, to the Brexit negotiations. This framework suggests that moral intuitions reflect five adaptive psychological systems shaped by our evolutionary history. Focusing on the three most relevant foundations of Fairness/cheating, Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion, I explore how both parties’ red lines and priorities are consistent with this criterion. In doing so, I hope to provide insight into how innate cognitive biases can inform legal processes with wide-ranging ramifications.


SMITH, D.S. 2021. When two tribes go to law: the moral foundations theory and the Brexit negotiations. Forensic science international: mind and law [online], 2, article ID 100055. Available from:

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date May 5, 2021
Online Publication Date May 8, 2021
Publication Date Nov 30, 2021
Deposit Date May 11, 2021
Publicly Available Date May 11, 2021
Journal Forensic Science International: Mind and Law
Print ISSN 2666-3538
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 2
Article Number 100055
Keywords Brexit; Moral foundations theory; Negotiations; European Union; Evolutionary psychology
Public URL


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