Lo and behold, judges aren’t always rational. It turns out that judges hearing parole requests start out the day granting about 65% of them. These numbers dwindle down to about 0% right before a judges break, then pop back up to around 65% after the break.
Danziger thinks that the judges’ behaviour can be easily explained. All repetitive decision-making tasks drain our mental resources. We start suffering from “choice overload” and we start opting for the easiest choice. For example, shoppers who have already made several decisions are more likely to go for the default offer, whether they’re buying a suit or a car. And when it comes to parole hearings, the default choice is to deny the prisoner’s request. The more decisions a judge has made, the more drained they are, and the more likely they are to make the default choice. Taking a break replenishes them.
. . . judges, even experienced ones, are vulnerable to the same psychological biases as everyone else. They can deliver different rulings in similar cases, under the influence of something as trivial as a food break. Their training, their experience, and the weighty nature of their decisions do not insulate them from the sort of problems that plague our everyday mental abilities (and indeed, this isn’t the first study to demonstrate this).
Scary stuff. But, it just goes to show that even highly trained, highly experienced people who are paid to be impartial are subject to the same irrationality that every other human on earth is. HT: Discovery