Facing a judge? Study says go early or after lunch

April 11, 2011
Facing a judge? Study says go early or after lunch

If you have to face a judge, try for first thing in the morning or right after lunch. A new study suggests that's when they're most lenient.

Seeking to test the idea that justice depends on "what the ate for breakfast," researchers studied 1,112 rulings by Israeli judges who were presiding over boards deciding whether to grant parole to prisoners.

"We find that the likelihood of a favorable ruling is greater at the very beginning of the work day or after a food break than later in the sequence of cases," the researchers report in Tuesday's edition of .

They found that at the beginning of a court session about 65 percent of the rulings tended to be in favor of the prisoner, but the chance of a favorable ruling declined to near zero by the end of the session. After a break for a meal, favorable rulings for the prisoners jumped back up to about 65 percent, and then began declining again.

And the pattern held true for each of the eight judges observed over 50 days, they noted.

"You're always surprised when you find effects where you don't want to find them," Jonathan Levav of Columbia University said in a telephone interview. "If you're a social scientist it gets you excited. But, as an ordinary citizen, you don't want to find this."

When people are making a lot of decisions in a row, they look for ways to simplify the process when they get mentally tired, he said, and the easiest thing is to maintain the status quo — that is, leave the prisoner in jail.

The researchers found the rulings didn't tend to be affected by the severity of the crime, the prison time served or the prisoner's gender or ethnicity. in rehabilitation programs were more likely to get parole, and those who were repeat offenders were less likely.

Each judge took two breaks. One at mid-morning beginning as early as 9:45 a.m. or as late as 10:30 a.m., and a lunch break that began between 12:45 p.m. and 2:10 p.m.

Levav, a professor of business, said the study was part of research on the process of sequential decision-making. His co-authors are from Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Israel.

The researchers said they suspect people would also seek ways to simplify matters when facing a series of decisions in legislative, medical, financial and other situations.

Explore further: Rising prison population an undeclared national crisis

More information: Danziger, Leva and Avnaim-Pesso. 2011. Extraneous factors in judicial decisions. PNAS dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1018033108


Related Stories

Rising prison population an undeclared national crisis

April 1, 2008

Nearly a month after a published study on increasing U.S. prison population revealed more than 1 in 100 American adults are behind bars, two University of Michigan professors are aiming to elevate the public debate on prison ...

Fla. judges, lawyers must 'unfriend' on Facebook

December 12, 2009

(AP) -- Florida's judges and lawyers should no longer "friend" each other on Facebook, the popular social networking site, according to a ruling from the state's Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee.

UK inmates comfortable with diversity

January 13, 2010

'Ethnicity, Identity and Social Relations in Prison', carried out by Dr. Coretta Philips of the London School of Economics, explored how prisoners' ethnic identities helped them cope with prison life, and whether such identities ...

Recommended for you

The dark side of Nobel prizewinning research

October 4, 2015

Think of the Nobel prizes and you think of groundbreaking research bettering mankind, but the awards have also honoured some quite unhumanitarian inventions such as chemical weapons, DDT and lobotomies.

How much for that Nobel prize in the window?

October 3, 2015

No need to make peace in the Middle East, resolve one of science's great mysteries or pen a masterpiece: the easiest way to get yourself a Nobel prize may be to buy one.

Search for Egypt's Nefertiti gains new momentum (Update)

September 29, 2015

The search for ancient Egypt's Queen Nefertiti in an alleged hidden chamber in King Tut's tomb gained new momentum as Egypt's Antiquities Minister said Tuesday he is now more convinced a queen's tomb may lay hidden behind ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (1) Apr 12, 2011
How can we keep a straight face when stuff like this is true. What a sick world.
not rated yet Apr 12, 2011
gut feeling :p

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.