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Judges Who Are Hungry, Fatigued More Likely to Deny Parole Judges Who Are Hungry, Fatigued More Likely to Deny Parole

Judges Who Are Hungry, Fatigued More Likely to Deny Parole

by Cord Jefferson
April 13, 2011


"Hangry," a portmanteau of "hungry" and "angry," is defined by the Urban Dictionary as being "when you are so hungry that your lack of food causes you to become angry, frustrated or both." Anyone who's missed lunch during a busy day can probably relate—you're irritable, tired, and scatterbrained, and the last thing you should be doing is making really important decisions. Unfortunately, according to new science, it turns out some judges are working while hangry—otherwise known as having low blood sugar—and people's lives are being changed irrevocably because of it.

Columbia Business School associate professor Jonathan Levav recently combed through more than 1,100 parole hearings for inmates from four Israeli prisons. Eight judges presided over the hearings in a 10-month time period.

A parole judge's day consisted of three sections split up by one morning snack break and one break for lunch. The judges could decide when to take their breaks, but they couldn't decide in what order they'd hear cases, which was determined arbitrarily according to when a prisoner's lawyer arrived.

Levav discovered that at the beginning of the day, judges paroled prisoners about 65 percent of the time, a number that then gradually dropped to almost zero until a break. After the food break, the judges immediately began paroling prisoners about 65 percent of the time again.

Amazingly, says Levav, the severity of the crime and time already served didn't sufficiently correlate to the likelihood of parole. Instead, he hypothesizes that tired judges are simply choosing the easiest option: Denying parole.

"The work shows the consequences of mental fatigue on really important decisions even among excellent decision-makers," Levav told Nature magazine. "It is really troubling and quite jarring—it looks like the law isn't exactly the law."

In other words, if you plan on leading a life of crime, it couldn't hurt to carry a few Snickers bars around, just in case.

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