Extraneous factors in judicial decisions

Edited by Daniel Kahneman, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, and approved February 25, 2011 (received for review December 8, 2010)
April 11, 2011
108 (17) 6889-6892

Abstract

Are judicial rulings based solely on laws and facts? Legal formalism holds that judges apply legal reasons to the facts of a case in a rational, mechanical, and deliberative manner. In contrast, legal realists argue that the rational application of legal reasons does not sufficiently explain the decisions of judges and that psychological, political, and social factors influence judicial rulings. We test the common caricature of realism that justice is “what the judge ate for breakfast” in sequential parole decisions made by experienced judges. We record the judges’ two daily food breaks, which result in segmenting the deliberations of the day into three distinct “decision sessions.” We find that the percentage of favorable rulings drops gradually from ≈65% to nearly zero within each decision session and returns abruptly to ≈65% after a break. Our findings suggest that judicial rulings can be swayed by extraneous variables that should have no bearing on legal decisions.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Jim Bettman, Brett Gordon, Michael Heller, Eric Johnson, Daniel Kahneman, Itzhak Levav, Orly Lobel, Oded Netzer, Jeff Rachlinski, Derek Rucker, Uri Simonsohn, Richard Thaler, and Andrew Wistrich for comments.

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Information & Authors

Information

Published in

Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Vol. 108 | No. 17
April 26, 2011
PubMed: 21482790

Classifications

Submission history

Published online: April 11, 2011
Published in issue: April 26, 2011

Keywords

  1. decisionmaking
  2. legal realism
  3. mental depletion
  4. expert decisionmaking
  5. ego depletion

Acknowledgments

We thank Jim Bettman, Brett Gordon, Michael Heller, Eric Johnson, Daniel Kahneman, Itzhak Levav, Orly Lobel, Oded Netzer, Jeff Rachlinski, Derek Rucker, Uri Simonsohn, Richard Thaler, and Andrew Wistrich for comments.

Notes

*This Direct Submission article had a prearranged editor.

Authors

Affiliations

Shai Danziger1
Department of Management, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva 84105, Israel; and
Jonathan Levav2,1 [email protected]
Columbia Business School, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027
Liora Avnaim-Pesso
Department of Management, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva 84105, Israel; and

Notes

2
To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: [email protected].
Author contributions: S.D., J.L., and L.A.-P. designed research; S.D., J.L., and L.A.-P. performed research; J.L. analyzed data; and S.D. and J.L. wrote the paper.
1
S.D. and J.L. contributed equally to this work.

Competing Interests

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

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    Extraneous factors in judicial decisions
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
    • Vol. 108
    • No. 17
    • pp. 6691-7276

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