The other day, I was sent this video from a close friend of mine
Funny joke, I thought. A judge wouldn’t really give a harsher sentence or judgment because he was hangry. But it got me thinking. I have seen judges do a lot of wild things in my career. Might hunger have played a role in their decision making?
The Hangry Judge Effect
I googled, as one does, about whether hunger affects judicial decisions, expecting to get hits on Reddit or Twitter from angry litigants complaining about their judge. But to my surprise, what I actually learned was that there is scientific research on this very topic. A study conducted by researchers at Ben Gurion University and Columbia University examined over 1,000 decisions made by eight Israeli judges who presided over parole requests.
The results were shocking. The researchers found that, in the morning, when the judges were presumably well-rested and not suffering from hunger pangs, they approved 65 percent of the requests they heard. However, as the day progressed, the rate of approvals plummeted to nearly zero. Interestingly, right after a snack break, the approval rate miraculously bounced back up to 65 percent.
The obvious conclusion for this fluctuation in approval rates is that the judges made decisions on the basis of “hanger” – a colloquial term used to describe the irritability that can result from hunger. However, the study suggests a more nuanced explanation: mental fatigue. Jonathan Levav, an associate professor of business at Columbia University, suggests that repeated decision-making can lead to cognitive exhaustion. As a result, individuals tend to seek simpler solutions and become more risk-averse, ultimately impacting the choices they make.
In the context of these judges, as their daily sessions dragged on, they may have found it easier to deny parole requests and maintain the status quo rather than engage in complex decision-making processes.
The phenomenon observed in the study is not unique to the field of law. In fact, similar behaviors have been documented in various professions. For instance, car buyers, after making a series of choices, tend to opt for standard configurations rather than customizing their vehicles. This suggests that mental fatigue is not exclusive to judges but can affect anyone who must make numerous decisions over time.
Personally, I also find myself unable to make decisions as the day drags on (and my hunger rises). Coming up with an exciting dinner idea at 3:00PM? Unlikely. Having to “gently parent” my 3-year-old when she needs to get of the bath and into bed? Not easy. Deciding what to watch on Netflix after 8PM? Very difficult. This is why, most nights of the week, my husband and I serve spaghetti, coerce our daughter out of the bath with a book, and watch The Office for the, what feels like, 18th time. We are too tired for creative decision-making.
What else affects judges
The truth is that I am not surprised by the results of this study. Judges may be well educated, experienced, and revered, literally put on a pedestal. But at the end of the day, they are still human. There are susceptible to the same biases as anyone else.
To some extent, we not only know but expect that judges will be affected by their own biases. Look at the United States judicial system. There, judges are publicly elected onto the bench. Though a candidate’s experience and education may matter to the voter, what tends to matter much more is his or her political leanings. The public expects that the elected judge will vote with an innate bias in favour of Democratic or Republican issues, depending on the elected official. Though here in Canada, we do not publicly elect our judges to the bench, judges are appointed by government officials, and their political allegiance absolutely plays a part on their appointment. A conservative government will appoint more conservative judges than will a liberal government.
Judges also have life experiences that may affect their decision making. For example, if a judge has a child who was injured at birth and required life-long care, you can imagine he or she may be more sympathetic to a plaintiff in a personal injury claim.
The Importance of Settlement
At the end of the day, this is why settling a case can often be the best course of action for clients.
By opting for settlement, clients can exercise control over the outcome, ensuring that their case is resolved according to their terms and best interests, rather than being subjected to the potential vagaries of a judge’s subjective considerations. In doing so, they not only achieve closure but also minimize the uncertainties and external factors that might affect their case in a court of law.
This study’s revelations emphasize that the notion of “justice will prevail” is a fallacy. Justice isn’t an infallible concept but rather a significant decision entrusted to human beings, who, like anyone else, can be influenced by their political leanings, lived experiences, and even something as basic as hunger.
In the legal landscape, where the courtroom is often seen as the ultimate arena for resolving disputes, it’s vital to recognize that settlements, while not always appropriate, can empower clients with a degree of certainty and agency over their legal matters that is often absent in the courtroom.
Furthermore, seeking a legal opinion you trust regarding the merits of your case, while candidly addressing the inherent uncertainties of trial, is extremely important. When it comes to navigating the intricate web of legal decisions, you should remember that you’re not alone. If you find yourself in need of expert guidance and a trustworthy legal opinion, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Our team is here to provide the support and insights necessary to help you make the best decisions for your legal matters.