Snack Judgment

We are told from our mother’s knee, and the health websites that we are increasingly taking as our source of wisdom, that we should start the day right with a good breakfast and then eat small regular meals throughout the day. Browsing on the odd snack with a blowout in the late evening is the way to perdition.

Well, it turns out that if we take the unhealthy route, the road to perdition might be the correct description, but not necessarily for us if we are the judge, but likely for those being judged. Danziger et al studied the parole decisions handed down by 8 judges as a function of the time of day (1,2).

The judge’s days were hard with about 28 cases to make judgments on. They also had a few which the prosecutor and the defense attorney already agreed on and these were taken out of the analysis. The judges had a snack break mid-morning and then a lunch break, so their judging day was split into three sessions.

The results of the study were startling. If your application for parole came up at the start of a session, you would have a 60 to 65% chance of being granted parole. But if the snack time was nigh, your chances were down to less than 20% and with some judges, close to 0%.

But that’s not all. Letting people out of jail is hard work – a big responsibility, and a judge, like the rest of us, gets tired during a hard days work so your chances of going home decrease as the day progresses notwithstanding that just after a good lunch your chance is a little better than 50/50. By the end of the day, things look very bleak.

We are left to speculate how the trend goes with the day of the week. Would Wednesday be a bad choice as it looks like there’s still a long way to the weekend and is there a TGIF bit of frivolity in the court-room? Or does dressing down Friday mean something else?

  1. S. Danziger, J. Levav and L. Avnaim-Pesso, PNAS, 108, 6889, (2011)
  2. AIR, 17, 23, (2011).

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