What the Judge Ate for Breakfast...

 Judge Judy, probably right before her break...( image source )

Judge Judy, probably right before her break...(image source)

There's an old saying from legal realists, "justice is what the judge ate for breakfast".

Meaning there are many unconscious, subliminal factors that influence our everyday decisions.  And judges are no exceptions. 

A bad breakfast that puts them in a bad mood might lead to a worse conviction.  It's a type of arousal transfer.

A 2011 study literally tested this hypothesis...

Bring the Judge Some Food

The study found...

"...that the percentage of favorable rulings drops gradually from ≈65% to nearly zero within each decision session and returns abruptly to ≈65% after a break."

 "Proportion of rulings in favor of the prisoners by ordinal position. Circled points indicate the first decision in each of the three decision sessions; tick marks on  x  axis denote every third case; dotted line denotes food break. Because unequal session lengths resulted in a low number of cases for some of the later ordinal positions, the graph is based on the first 95% of the data from each session." ( image source )

"Proportion of rulings in favor of the prisoners by ordinal position. Circled points indicate the first decision in each of the three decision sessions; tick marks on x axis denote every third case; dotted line denotes food break. Because unequal session lengths resulted in a low number of cases for some of the later ordinal positions, the graph is based on the first 95% of the data from each session." (image source)

In other words, the more decisions and less food breaks the judge had, the less favorable the ruling.

What This Means

Other than suggesting that we question our judicial system, it shows the importance of extraneous factors in our decision making abilities.  One of those factors being mental decision fatigue...

"Prior research suggests that making repeated judgments or decisions depletes individuals’ executive function and mental resources (6), which can, in turn, influence their subsequent decisions. For instance, sequential choices between consumer goods can lead to an increase in intuitive decisionmaking (7) as well as a reduced tolerance for pain in a subsequent task (8)." -Shai Danziger

This is why Mark Zuckerberg wears the same clothes everyday. 

Minimize decision fatigue from the little things in life.  Save the energy for the bigger decisions.

How to Use It

  Doug  was Mark Zuckerberg's favorite show growing up ( image source )

Doug was Mark Zuckerberg's favorite show growing up (image source)

Other than becoming a cartoon character and wearing the same thing everyday, we can use this in many ways.

A few ideas:

  • Never go to the grocery store hungry
  • Decide what to eat for the week on Sunday (instead of making fatigued unhealthy decisions at the last minute)
  • Limit Choices
  • Plan the workouts when we have energy (in the morning or the day before)
  • Commit to exercising the day before - schedule it (prevents making the gametime decision to skip the gym for  the couch because we had an exhausting day...this is also why people who exercise in the morning tend to be more compliant)
  • Set Time Limits
  • Don't make consecutive big decisions  - it's interval training, not a marathon...we need a recovery
  • Schedule breaks and maintain consistent nutrition/hydration throughout the day
  • Don't have complex, emotional conversations at night with your spouse
  • Avoid Amazon at night
  • Use Checklists
  • Realize we may be fatigued after big decisions or complex thinking problems (physical therapists often feel this after they finish evaluating a complex patient)
  • Don't sweat the small stuff because it'll make us worse at the big stuff
  • Consider that other people's decisions may not be from the clear intention we perceive it as - show some empathy and understanding (maybe they're not an asshole, maybe they're just tired and hungry?)

These are just a few examples.  There are many ways to apply the concept. 

But in the end it's not the self-help tips that matter most.

The most important step is to be aware of it and prepare for it.  Because if we don't understand the extraneous factors of our society we'll likely be frustrated and ineffective.

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