Hungry Judges Less Lenient

Fatigue may lead decision-makers to choose easy options
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 17, 2011 5:44 PM CDT
How long ago was lunch?   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – If you ever find yourself before a judge, you should hope that he or she is well-fed and well-rested, new research suggests. Researchers analyzed more than a thousand parole hearings in Israel and discovered that judges were much likelier to grant an inmate parole if the hearing occurred soon after a meal break, Scientific American reports. Prisoners who faced judges long after their last break, on the other hand, had almost no chance of being paroled.

The judges decided when to call meal breaks but had no control over the ordering of cases. The researchers suspect that decision-makers tended to choose the easier option—in this case, refusing parole—as fatigue and hunger set in. They believe the same bias likely occurs in many other situations. "The work shows the consequences of mental fatigue on really important decisions even among excellent decision-makers," the lead researcher says. "It is really troubling and quite jarring—it looks like the law isn't exactly the law."

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