There are studies that have found that the best time to appear before a judge is right after breakfast or right after lunch. The studies suggest that as the morning or afternoon goes on, judges get compassion fatigue or become risk adverse. But what if your favorite football team unexpectedly loses? Surely that would never affect a judge’s decision.
A recent study by Naci Mocan and Ozkan Eren suggests judges are more affected by things like that than any of us might like to admit. This new study is worth reading.
Employing the universe of juvenile court decisions in a U.S. state between 1996 and 2012, we analyze the effects of emotional shocks associated with unexpected outcomes of football games played by a prominent college team in the state. We investigate the behavior of judges, the conduct of whom should, by law, be free of personal biases and emotions. We find that unexpected losses increase disposition (sentence) lengths assigned by judges during the week following the game. Unexpected wins, or losses that were expected to be close contests ex-ante, have no impact. The effects of these emotional shocks are asymmetrically borne by black defendants. We present evidence that the results are not influenced by defendant or attorney behavior or by defendants’ economic background. Importantly, the results are driven by judges who have received their bachelor’s degrees from the university with which the football team is affiliated. Different falsification tests and a number of auxiliary analyses demonstrate the robustness of the findings. These results provide evidence for the impact of emotions in one domain on a behavior in a completely unrelated domain among a uniformly highly-educated group of individuals (judges), with decisions involving high stakes (sentence lengths). They also point to the existence of a subtle and previously-unnoticed capricious application of sentencing.
The full study can be found here: Emotional Judges and Unlucky Juveniles