“Emotion doesn’t affect my decision-making” I hear, delivered with a steely stare. It’s a tough objection to address. Some people are proud to think of themselves as rational calculating machines, driven by numbers, coolly weighing evidence. Suggesting otherwise can be taken as an insult.
Israeli judges have come to my aid this week. A study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that judges on parole boards are dramatically more lenient first thing in the morning and straight after lunch. Observing proceedings over 400 days, Professor Levav and his colleagues found that if your case comes up immediately after a break, you have a 65% chance of parole. When the judge’s stomach is growling, that chance falls to zero.
When people are faced with a series of complex decisions and we get mentally or physically tired, our brains seek to simplify the process. Even highly experienced judges, chosen for their ability to assess without bias, are subject to this influence.
What’s more, we are usually unaware that we are doing it. So, if you want a colleague’s help with an assignment, or you’re keen to request a pay rise, schedule the meeting for 9.30 or 1.30. If you’re offered noon, don’t waste your breath!