Monday, April 11, 2011

Has the Judge Eaten?

cartoon of sandwich and orangeA caricature of Legal Realism is that it says that outcomes depend on "what the judge had for breakfast." A new study looks not at what judges ate but when they ate.

Shai Danzigera, Jonathan Levavb & Liora Avnaim-Pessoa, Extraneous Factors in Judicial Decisions, Proceedings of the Nat'l Acad. of Sci. Early Ed. (published online before print), April 11, 2011, PDF (UW restricted), abstract (UW restricted). News stories: Facing a judge? Study says go early or after lunch,, April 11, 2011; Hunger Affects Court Rulings?, PRI's The World, April 11, 2011 (radio interview).
The authors examined 1,112 parole rulings by 8 Israeli judges during 50 court days over 10 months. Each day included a late-morning snack break (usually a sandwich and fruit) and a lunch break. The judges did not control the order of the cases that came before them, and they didn't know the content of each case until it was presented. Again and again, it turned out that prisoners whose cases were heard first thing in the morning or shortly after one of the breaks. The stats are striking: graph shows jump in favorable outcomes for prisoners after each meal break The authors didn't ask the judges whether having a snack (or meal) simply put them in a better mood and made them more sympathetic to parole petitions. Perhaps there's an effect due to mental fatigue in doing repeated tasks or low blood glucose levels as the court session wears on.

Graphics: (1) sandwich and fruit by mw; (2) graph, showing jump in favorable decisions after each break, from article.

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