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Friday, September 23, 2016

Emotional Judges and Unlucky Juveniles

Ozkan Eren and Naci Mocan
NBER Working Paper No. 22611
September 2016

Abstract

Employing the universe of juvenile court decisions in a U.S. state between 1996 and 2012, we
analyze the effects of emotional shocks associated with unexpected outcomes of football games
played by a prominent college team in the state. We investigate the behavior of judges, the
conduct of whom should, by law, be free of personal biases and emotions. We find that
unexpected losses increase disposition (sentence) lengths assigned by judges during the week
following the game. Unexpected wins, or losses that were expected to be close contests ex-ante,
have no impact. The effects of these emotional shocks are asymmetrically borne by black
defendants. We present evidence that the results are not influenced by defendant or attorney
behavior or by defendants’ economic background. Importantly, the results are driven by judges
who have received their bachelor’s degrees from the university with which the football team is
affiliated. Different falsification tests and a number of auxiliary analyses demonstrate the
robustness of the findings. These results provide evidence for the impact of emotions in one
domain on a behavior in a completely unrelated domain among a uniformly highly-educated
group of individuals (judges), with decisions involving high stakes (sentence lengths). They also
point to the existence of a subtle and previously-unnoticed capricious application of sentencing.

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