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Inside the Judicial Mind

Chris Guthrie

Vanderbilt University - Law School

Jeffrey J. Rachlinski

Cornell Law School

Andrew J. Wistrich

California Central District Court

Cornell Law Review, Vol. 86, No. 4, May 2001

The quality of the judicial system depends upon the quality of decisions that judges make. Even the most talented and dedicated judges surely make occasional mistakes, but the public understandably expects judges to avoid systematic errors. This expectation, however, might be unrealistic. Psychologists who study human judgment and choice have learned that people frequently fall prey to cognitive illusions that produce systematic errors in judgment. Even though judges are experienced, well-trained, and highly motivated decision makers, they might be vulnerable to cognitive illusions. We report the results of an empirical study designed to determine whether five common cognitive illusions (anchoring, framing, hindsight bias, inverse fallacy, and egocentric biases) would influence the decision-making processes of a sample of 167 federal magistrate judges. Although the judges in our study appeared somewhat less susceptible to two of these illusions (framing effects and the inverse fallacy) than lay decision makers, we found that each of the five illusions we tested had a significant impact on judicial decision making. Judges, it seems, are human. Like the rest of us, their judgment is affected by cognitive illusions that can produce systematic errors in judgment.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 91

JEL Classification: K41

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Date posted: February 23, 2001  

Suggested Citation

Guthrie, Chris and Rachlinski , Jeffrey J. and Wistrich, Andrew J., Inside the Judicial Mind. Cornell Law Review, Vol. 86, No. 4, May 2001. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=257634 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.257634

Contact Information

Chris Guthrie
Vanderbilt University - Law School ( email )
131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States
615-322-6823 (Phone)
615-322-6631 (Fax)

Jeffrey John Rachlinski (Contact Author)
Cornell Law School ( email )
Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States
607-255-5878 (Phone)
607-255-7193 (Fax)

Andrew J. Wistrich
California Central District Court ( email )
Los Angeles, CA 90012
United States
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