According to a new study by Ben-Gurion University and Columbia University, fatigue negatively influences the rulings of judges sitting on parole hearings.
Indeed, the study, published in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that judges are statistically more apt to rule in favor of granting parole when rested.
The researchers, Prof. Shai Danziger from BGU’s Faculty of Business and Management, Columbia Business School Prof. Jonathan Levav and BGU graduate Liora Avnaim-Pesso, studied more than 1,000 parole decisions made by eight experienced judges in Israel over 50 days, in a 10-month period.
The researchers found that a judge’s willingness to grant parole can be influenced by the time between their latest break and their current hearing.
“We test the common caricature of realism that justice is ‘what the judge ate for breakfast’ in sequential parole decisions made by experienced judges,” stated the researchers in their paper. “Our findings suggest that judicial rulings can be swayed by extraneous variables that should have no bearing on legal decisions.”
The researchers found that after a snack or lunch break, 65 percent of cases were granted parole. The rate of favorable rulings then fell gradually – sometimes as low as zero – within each decision session, but would return to 65% after a break.
“The evidence suggests that when judges make repeated rulings, they show an increased tendency to rule in favor of the status quo,” said Levav. “This tendency can be overcome by taking a break to eat a meal – which is consistent with previous research that demonstrated the positive impact of a short rest and glucose on mental resource replenishment. However, food might not be the only factor; sometimes a mental break can yield a similar result.”
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