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Hungry Judge Effect

by Jason Maltby

How does the Hungry Judge Effect influence judicial decisions and what are its implications for legal fairness?

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Evidence, Psychological Mechanisms and Legal Implications
by: Anonymous

The Hungry Judge Effect refers to the phenomenon where judges' decisions are significantly influenced by their physical state, particularly hunger. This effect was highlighted by a landmark study by Danziger, Levav, and Avnaim-Pesso (2011) which found that judges were more likely to grant parole at the beginning of the day or immediately after a meal break, with the likelihood of favorable rulings decreasing as the time since their last meal increased.

Evidence and Studies

1. Danziger, Levav, and Avnaim-Pesso (2011) Study:

The study analyzed over 1,100 parole rulings made by Israeli judges over a 10-month period. It revealed that the probability of a favorable ruling dropped from approximately 65% at the beginning of a session to nearly zero just before a break, then jumped back up to around 65% after the break. The study suggested that as judges become hungry, they experience decision fatigue, which leads them to favor the default or safer option—typically denying parole .

2. Further Research:

Weinshall-Margel and Shapard (2011): They conducted a follow-up analysis that confirmed the original findings, emphasizing the role of physiological states in judicial decision-making. Their research demonstrated that hunger can affect cognitive function, leading to less favorable rulings as judges' energy levels decrease .

Psychological Mechanisms:

The cognitive load theory suggests that decision-making consumes mental resources, and hunger exacerbates the depletion of these resources, resulting in decision fatigue. This fatigue leads judges to opt for the easier, default decision, which often is the more conservative or punitive choice.

Implications for Legal Fairness

1. Inconsistent Judgments:

The Hungry Judge Effect introduces inconsistency and arbitrariness into the judicial process. If a defendant’s outcome can depend on the time of day or the judge's meal schedule, it undermines the fairness and reliability of the legal system.

2. Bias and Inequality:

This effect can exacerbate existing biases within the judicial system. For example, if a judge is more likely to deny parole when hungry, and if certain groups are more frequently up for parole hearings at those times, it could lead to systemic biases against those groups.

3. Need for Structural Changes:

To mitigate the Hungry Judge Effect, courts may need to implement structural changes such as ensuring regular breaks and providing snacks to maintain judges’ glucose levels. Additionally, scheduling more critical or complex cases at times when judges are less likely to be hungry could help reduce bias.

4. Implications for Legal Practitioners:

Lawyers and legal practitioners need to be aware of the Hungry Judge Effect and consider timing when scheduling hearings. Understanding this phenomenon can help in strategizing case presentations to improve the likelihood of favorable outcomes.

5. Policy Recommendations:

Mandatory Breaks: Courts could mandate regular breaks to ensure judges do not make decisions while hungry.

Awareness Training: Judges should be educated about the potential influence of physiological states on their decisions to foster self-awareness and promote fairness.

Alternative Decision-Making Models: Implementing decision-support systems that can help judges by providing consistent recommendations based on legal principles rather than subjective states could also be beneficial.


The Hungry Judge Effect sheds light on the significant impact of physiological states on judicial decisions. It underscores the importance of considering human factors in legal settings to ensure fairness and consistency. Addressing this effect through structural changes and awareness can help enhance the reliability and equity of judicial outcomes.


1. Danziger, S., Levav, J., & Avnaim-Pesso, L. (2011). Extraneous factors in judicial decisions. *Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences*, 108(17), 6889-6892.

2. Weinshall-Margel, K., & Shapard, O. (2011). Overlooked factors in the analysis of parole decisions. *Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences*, 108(42), E833.

3. Vohs, K. D., & Baumeister, R. F. (2016). Handbook of self-regulation: Research, theory, and applications. Guilford Publications.

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