Judging and the Depletion Effect

“Justice is what the judge ate for breakfast”. – Judge Jerome Frank

In Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman Nobel Prize winner explains this phenomenon. In a study of parole judges, the researchers plotted the proportion of approved requests for parole against the time since the last food break. It was found that the prospect of someone being granted parole changed during the elapsed time between food breaks.

The cases before the parole judges were presented in random order. Each case took around 6 minutes to hear. After each meal, the proportion of people granted parole increased.

Kahneman explained that “During the two hours or so until the judges’ next feeding, the approval rate drops steadily, to about zero just before the meal… Tired and hungry judges tend to fall back on their default position of denying requests for parole.” However, by restoring their level of available sugar to the brain, the parole judges were able to deal with the deterioration of their performance. About 65% of the approved parole requests were granted after a meal.

(Views are my own and do not represent the views of any organization.)

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