Mind & Body

Hangry Judges Are Harsher Judges, According To Research

Here's some alarming news: Just like you, judges get hangry. Unlike you, they have the ability to turn people's lives upside down. The research says that judges are more lenient in their decisions immediately after eating.

Innocent Until Proven Hungry

In 2010, Professor Shai Danziger from Israel's Ben-Gurion University of the Negev published a significant study in the journal PNAS. He and his team analyzed the decisions of eight judges in 1,112 parole-board hearings in Israeli prisons over ten months to test the truth behind a common joke: "Justice is what the judge had for breakfast." The quip is symbolic of what's known as legal realism, or the idea that because the justice system is run by humans, it's subject to the same biases and imperfections as humans are.

They grouped the judges' decisions to accept or reject a request for parole in three sessions per day: from breakfast to the late-morning snack break, from the snack break to lunch, and from lunch to dinner. The results showed that the old joke contains a lot of truth: judges were much more likely to accept a request for parole at the beginning of the workday and after a food break than later in a session. That was true regardless of the length of their overall sentence or whether they'd been in prison before, and the researchers ruled out the possibility that the results were due to judges feeling that they'd filled a "quota" of favorable decisions early in a session.

Should We Be Worried?

Perhaps the scariest part of this finding is that the judges had no idea this was the case. According to Ed Yong of Discover Magazine, the judges didn't predict this effect, even though they are well aware of their own actions. The criminologists or social workers who sit on the parole boards hadn't realized either.

Jonathan Levav, who co-led the study, said, "There are no checks about the judges' decisions because no one has ever documented this tendency before. Needless to say, I would expect there to be something put into place after this."

Bottom line: hanger is real, and it can have a big impact. One study showed that people with low blood sugar will stick more pins in a voodoo doll of their spouse than those who are well fed. Another study found that states with high diabetes rates — and therefore frequent bouts of low blood sugar — also had high violent crime rates. The moral of the story? Don't make big decisions on an empty stomach.

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Written By
Ashley Hamer
March 8, 2017