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February 15, 2017

"Emotional Judges and Unlucky Juveniles"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper on SSRN authored by two economists, Naci Mocan and Ozkan Eren. Here is the abstract:

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.

February 15, 2017 at 07:02 PM | Permalink


They failed to control for lunch. An Israeli study showed defendants fared better in sentencing after lunch.

All the evidence is accumulating in one direction. Replace the ultra-stupid lawyer judges with robots running legislatively enacted algorithms.

The lawyer profession has got the be the stupidest group of people ever assembled, more impaired than an assembly of Life Skills students.

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 15, 2017 9:00:29 PM

Everyone repeat after me: "Correlation is not causation."

If the authors had found a correlation between sentences and phases of the moon, would they suggest that the lunar cycle is responsible for harsh justice?

Posted by: justme | Feb 16, 2017 1:52:10 PM

And saying, "Correlation is not causation" is step one of an argument, not the end of one. The authors tried to rule out as many other options as possible. What flaws do you see in how they ruled out other potential causes, and what potential causes do you think the study failed to consider? How would you rule those out (or in)?

And what flaw do you see in the equation they used to "estimate the impact of emotional shocks generated by unexpected wins or losses on disposition length imposed by judge"?

𝐷𝑖𝑗𝑑k𝑠= πœ†0 + πœ†11(π‘†π‘˜βˆ’1𝑠≀ βˆ’4) + πœ†21(π‘†π‘˜βˆ’1𝑠≀ βˆ’4 )1(π‘¦π‘˜βˆ’1𝑠= 0) + πœ†31(βˆ’4 < π‘†π‘˜βˆ’1𝑠< 4)
+ πœ†41(βˆ’4 < π‘†π‘˜βˆ’1𝑠< 4)1(π‘¦π‘˜βˆ’1𝑠= 0) + πœ†51(π‘†π‘˜βˆ’1𝑠β‰₯ 4)
+ πœ†61(π‘†π‘˜βˆ’1𝑠β‰₯ 4)1(π‘¦π‘˜βˆ’1𝑠= 1) + 𝑋𝑖𝑗𝑑k𝑠𝛽+ πœ‚π‘—+ 𝛾𝑑+ 𝛿k + πœƒπ‘ + πœ–π‘–π‘—π‘‘k𝑠

Posted by: Stephen Hardwick | Feb 17, 2017 11:43:24 AM

Stephen. I went through that formula. The authors acknowledge the effect of food breaks on sentencing in the article. However, they should have included an extra "lambda" variable to represent the "lunch" effect. I would also suggest adding a dummy variable to represent the sheer stupidity of the lawyer profession.

What's with the "Stephen?" Are you British or something?

Posted by: David Behar | Feb 17, 2017 6:15:54 PM

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