How do we decide? And how can you get someone to make the decision you want from them?
It appears that timing is everything.
To make this case vividly, consider a person who makes her living making wise and impartial decisions: a judge.
Now, let's give her a common decision: a parole board decision, of which the judge will make from 14 to 35 "yes" or "no" decisions each day. She either grants the prisoner's petition, or refuses it.
Now, guess what's the most important fact that determines whether a prisoner goes free?
In Israeli courts, at least, the answer is "breakfast", followed closely by "lunch."
Here's a chart of this phenomenon, taken from a more detailed article in the wonderful blog, Not Exactly Rocket Science.
The graphed lines represent the percentage of favorable decisions made over the course of a day, the highest points indicating the highest percentages.
At the far left--the start of the judge's day--the judges grant about 65 percent (between the 0.6 and 0.7 in the far left hand column) of the prisoners' requests. The percentage of favorable decisions increases to almost 75%, before it begins a staggered fall all the way to zero, about a third of the way through the day.Then you see a dotted line. What does that indicate?
That's the judge's lunch break, during which no decisions are made.
What happens when the judge returns from that break? The prisoners apparently become far more deserving of parole. Almost 70% are granted parole. And then, once again, the prisoners become less deserving, until late in the afternoon, when only about 12% are granted parole.
It's all about food? Now what happens? The judge takes the afternoon meal break, and returns. Once again, the first applicants after the break are granted parole 65% of the time, after which the percentage drops precipitously--a virtual free fall, until the end of the day when none are granted parole.
If ever a graph supported the old truism, "Timing is everything," this is one. As the article's author cleverly notes, the chart totally supports an old saw about the law. "Justice," it goes, "is what the judge had for breakfast."
These results also seem to echo an observation by Voltaire: "We are always best when our stomachs are fulfilled."
This raises a question for each of us: When's the best time to ask for something--a raise, a deal, a favor? What's the best time of the day to call on someone to try to get a face-to-face? Perhaps this chart makes a case for first thing in the morning, and right after lunch?
Do people feel more inclined to say yes on a full stomach--and not at all inclined to say yes on an empty one?
Whatever lessons we might take from this, this example suggests just how arbitrary and non-rational we can be. Sometimes, our decisions are under the strange influence of eggs and bacon.
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The chart is the creation and result of the work of Shai Danziger from Ben Gurion University of the Negev. It summarizes 1,112 parole board hearings over a ten-month period. Danziger, Leva and Avnaim-Pesso. 2011. Extraneous factors in judicial decisions.
For a more detailed explanation of the study and its implications, see the smartly-headlined article at the Discover magazine site, "Justice Is Served, But More After Lunch."