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Refreshing Judgments

April 26, 2011

Prisoners up for parole stand a better chance with a judge who’s just had a meal break.



The benefits of a fresh judge…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

There’s an old legal saying that “justice is what the judge ate for breakfast.” And there may be some truth to it, according to marketing professor Jonathan Levav of the Columbia Business School. He and his colleagues at Ben Gurion University studied over a thousand rulings by eight Israeli parole board judges. The judges heard an average of 23 cases a day, broken up by a morning snack and lunch.

JONATHAN LEVAV (Columbia University Business School):

Depending on the kind of prisoner that you are, you’re anywhere between 2 and 6 times as likely to be released immediately after a break than immediately before.


That jibes with past research, which shows that hunger gets in the way of decision-making, and that tired decision-makers tend to default to the status quo.


They say, you know what, I can’t decide, let me go with what’s there already. In the case of the prisoners, the status quo means staying in prison.


I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.