When determining a court ruling, there are many factors that contribute to their final verdict. You probably assume that the judge’s decision is influenced solely by the nature of the crime committed or the particular laws that were broken. While this is completely valid, there is an even greater influential factor that dictates the judge’s decision: the time of day.
In 2012 a research team from Columbia University  examined 1,112 court rulings set in place by a Parole Board Judge over a 10 month period. The judge would have to determine whether the individuals in question would be released from prison on parole, or a change in the parole terms.
While the facts of the case often take precedence in decision making, the judges mental state had an alarming influence on their verdict.
As the day goes on, the chance of a favorable ruling drops
Image source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Does the time of day, or the judges level of hunger really contribute that greatly to their decision making? Yes, it does. The research went on to show that at the start of the day the likelihood of the judging giving out a favorable ruling was somewhere around 65%.
But as the morning dragged on, the judge became fatigued and drained from making decision after decision. As more time went on, the odds of receiving a favorable ruling decreased steadily until it was whittled down to zero.
However, right after their lunch break, the judge would return to the courtroom feeling refreshed and recharged. Energized by their second wind, their leniency skyrockets back up to a whopping 65%. And again, as the day drags on to its finish, the favorable rulings slowly diminish along with the judge’s spirits.
This is no coincidence. According to the carefully recorded research, this was true for all 1,112 cases. The severity of the crime didn’t matter. Whether it was rape, murder, theft, or embezzlement, the criminal was more likely to get a favorable ruling either early in the morning, or after the judges lunch break.
We all suffer from decision fatigue without even realizing it
Perhaps you aren’t a judge with the fate of an individual’s life at your disposal, but the daily decisions you make for yourself could hinder you if you’re not in the right head-space.
Regardless of how energetic you feel (as I imagine it is somehow caffeine induced anyway), you will still experience decision fatigue. Just like every other muscle, your brain gets tired after periods of overuse, pumping out one decision after the next. It needs a chance to rest in order to function at a productive rate.
Decision fatigue can have some detrimental consequences
When you are in a position such as a Judge, you can’t afford to let your mental state dictate your decision making; but it still does. According to George Lowenstein, an American educator and economy expert, decision fatigue is to blame for poor decision making among members of high office. The disastrous level of failure among these individuals to control their impulses could be directly related to their day to day stresses at work and their private life.
When you’re just too tired to think, you stop caring. And once you get careless, that’s when you need to worry. Decision fatigue can contribute to a number of issues such as impulse shopping (guilty), poor decision making at work, and poor decision making with after work relationships. You know what I’m talking about. Don’t dip your pen in the company ink.
For more effective decision making:
Either alter the time of decision making to when your mind is the most fresh, or limit the number of decisions to be made. Try utilizing the following hacks for more effective decision making.
Make your most important decisions in the beginning: Don’t waste your first 3 hours
You want to make decisions at your peak performance, so either first thing in the morning, or right after a break.
Research has actually shown that you are the most productive for the first 3 hours  of your day. Utilize this time! Don’t waste it on trivial decisions such as what to wear, or mindlessly scrolling through social media.
Instead, use this time to tweak your game plan. What do you want to accomplish? What can you improve? What steps do you need to take to reach these goals?
Form habits to reduce decision making: You don’t have to choose all the time
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it doesn’t have to be an extravagant spread every morning. Make a habit out of eating a similar or quick breakfast, and cut that step of your morning out of the way. Can’t decide what to wear? Pick the first thing that catches your eye. We both know that after 20 minutes of changing outfits you’ll just go with the first thing anyway.
Powerful individuals such as Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Mark Zuckerberg don’t waste their precious time deciding what to wear. In fact, they have been known to limiting their outfits down to two options in order to reduce their daily decision making.
Take frequent breaks for a clearer mind
You are at your peak of productivity after a break, so to reap the benefits, you need to take lots of breaks! I know, what a sacrifice. If judges make better decisions in the morning and after their lunch break, then so will you.
The reason for this is because the belly is now full, and the hunger is gone. Roy Baumeister, Florida State University social psychologist had found that low-glucose levels take a negative toll on decision making. By taking a break to replenish your glucose levels, you will be able to focus better and improve your decision making abilities.
Even if you aren’t hungry little breaks are still necessary to let your mind refresh, and come back being able to think more clearly.
Structure your break times. Decide beforehand when you will take breaks, and eat energy sustaining snacks so that your energy level doesn’t drop too low. The time you “lose” during your breaks will be made up in the end, as your productivity will increase after each break.
So instead of slogging through your day, letting your mind deteriorate and fall victim to the daily abuses of decision making, take a break. Eat a snack. Let your mind refresh and reset, and jump-start your productivity throughout the day.
|||^||PNAS: Extraneous factors in judicial decisions|
|||^||Inc: In an 8-Hour Day, the Average Worker Is Productive for This Many Hours|
|||^||The New Yourk Times Magazine: Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?|