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Mood and the Malleability of Moral Reasoning

36 Pages Posted: 2 Mar 2016 Last revised: 30 Jun 2017

Daniel L. Chen

Toulouse School of Economics / Institute for Advanced Study / University of Toulouse; LWP, Harvard Law School, Harvard University

Date Written: March 1, 2017

Abstract

We detect intra-judge variation in judicial decisions driven by factors completely unrelated to the merits of the case, or to any case characteristics for that matter. Concretely, we show that asylum grant rates in US immigration courts differ by the success of the court city’s NFL team on the night before, and by the city’s weather on the day of, the decision. Our data including half a million decisions spanning two decades allows us to exclude confounding factors, such as scheduling and seasonal effects. Most importantly, our design holds the identity of the judge constant. On average, US immigration judges grant an additional 1.5% of asylum petitions on the day after their city’s NFL team won, relative to days after the team lost. Bad weather on the day of the decision has approximately the opposite effect. By way of comparison, the average grant rate is 39%. We do not find comparable effects in sentencing decisions of US district courts, and speculate that this may be due to higher quality of the federal judges, more time for deliberation, or the constraining effect of the federal sentencing guidelines.

Suggested Citation

Chen, Daniel L., Mood and the Malleability of Moral Reasoning (March 1, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2740485 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2740485

Daniel L. Chen (Contact Author)

Toulouse School of Economics / Institute for Advanced Study / University of Toulouse ( email )

21 allée de Brienne
31015 Toulouse cedex 6 France
Toulouse, 31015
France

LWP, Harvard Law School, Harvard University ( email )

8 Mt. Auburn St., 1st Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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