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The Fuel of Good Decision Making

For a tired brain, the judicious answer is probably “no.”

Illustration Credit: Swing by Ryan Peltier

In 2011, Shai Danziger, PhD, a cognitive neuroscientist at Tel Aviv University School of Management, and his colleagues published a groundbreaking paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that gave new insight into the old adage, “Justice depends on what the judge had for breakfast.” What Danziger did was to analyze more than 1,100 parole decisions made by eight judges at four Israeli prisons. He discovered that parole was granted to prisoners about one-third of the time, but there were extreme fluctuations through the course of the day. Specifically, if a prisoner was going in front of the parole board early in the morning or just after a food break, the probability of parole was 65 percent. For prisoners facing the parole board late in the day—or long after a food break—the probability of parole dropped to just about zero.An apples-to-apples comparison revealed that prisoners who committed the same crime and who had the same sentence had different parole outcomes, depending on when the case was heard during the day.Whether or not a judge should grant parole is a tough decision invo …

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