April 14, 2011

Feed that hungry judge!

Photo credit: vistavision (Creative Commons)
Attorneys: If you want your client released from jail, make sure the judge just had a bite to eat.

That is the take-home message from a new study of experienced judges in Israel. Judges were much more likely to grant parole right after they had a lunch or snack break:
The team studied more than 1,000 parole decisions made by eight experienced judges in Israel over 50 days in a ten-month period. After a snack or lunch break, 65 percent of cases were granted parole. The rate of favorable rulings then fell gradually, sometimes [to] as low as zero, within each decision session and would return to 65 percent after a break.

Jonathan Levav, a professor at Columbia Business School who co-authored the study, said the more rulings a judge makes, the greater the tendency to “rule in favor of the status quo,” but a snack break can interrupt that tendency.

The current study left unsettled the issue of whether it was the food itself or the rest period that came with it that improved the judges' dispositions toward the hopeful convicts. Previous research has shown that both glucose and mental breaks can restore mental functioning.

The study adds to a growing body of evidence on psychological bias in judicial decision-making.

  • The study, "Extraneous factors in judicial decisions" by Shai Danziger, Jonathan Levav and Liora Avnaim-Pesso, was just published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A press release with additional information on the study and its authors is HERE.


wolverine4abolishment said...

Don't you think that this becomes an integrity issue in the justice system? This is no longer Psychology but an auditing disaster because its easy to tempt a "hungry" judge to release the defendant. This is the same thing as someone giving a lavish gift to a government department in order for favoristism. This may not be as "criminal" but I am sure there are regulations against such favors. It can be as simple as an organizational policy.

Neuroskeptic said...

Or if feeding him doesn't work, try giving him a beer, like in this quite ridiculous case from the UK.