June 19, 2024

Economix: Better Chance of Parole Early in a Day

A new paper finds that experienced parole judges in Israel granted freedom about 65 percent of the time to the first prisoner who appeared before them on a given day. By the end of a morning session, the chance of release had dropped almost to zero.

After the same judge returned from a lunch break, the first prisoner once again had about a 65 percent chance at freedom. And once again the odds declined steadily.

DESCRIPTIONSource:Shai Danzigera, Jonathan Levav, and Liora Avnaim-Pessoa

The reason offered by the authors suggests the broader significance. They write that making successive decisions depletes a limited mental facility, just like curling a dumbbell wears out your arms. As people get tired, they look for shortcuts, and one of the easiest shortcuts is to uphold the status quo –- in this case, denying parole.

This suggests that college admissions committees are more likely to accept the first applicants they consider after a lunch break. Or that quality-control officers may be more likely to ignore possible flaws in products as a long day drags toward its close.

“I don’t think this is at all unique to judges,” one of the authors, Jonathan Levav of Columbia University, said in a radio interview with the PRI program “The World.” “I think you would find the same thing with doctors or with admissions officers or with funding decisions. In fact the interesting thing is that pilots have all these checks and balances, they have all these checklists that they use exactly in order to overcome fatigue. So some fields have a sensitivity to the fact that people can get tired on the job, whereas in other fields it seems like the expert is just there, you know, in a room for 12 hours in a row and break be damned.”

Food and rest are an imperfect solution. The odds of a prisoner’s gaining freedom deteriorate gradually through the morning. The food-and-rest cure would seem to require judges (or other decision makers) to take lunch breaks after each decision.

The research on the use of checklists as a prop against fatigue and the other dangers that confront decision-makers is its own fascinating genre. See, for example, “The Checklist Manifesto,” by Atul Gawande.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=2d7fe96a70690ddb64031ce4e0c885d0

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