Does Reason Writing Reduce Decision Bias? Experimental Evidence from Judges in China
55 Pages Posted: 7 Feb 2017 Last revised: 23 Jul 2019
Date Written: January 5, 2018
Anecdotal evidence and academic research show that judges’ subjective feelings toward litigants have undue influence on their judgments. This article suggests a simple debiasing procedure, namely, requiring judges to write their reasons before making a decision. I conduct experiments on incumbent Chinese judges to test its effectiveness. Study 1 uses a between-subjects design to explore the interaction between reason writing and a stimulus that induces a judge’s negative feeling toward a defendant. Judges who are required to write their reasons before they decide a case are significantly less affected by the stimulus than those who directly enter the decision-making stage. Study 2 provides evidence that a forced deliberation period achieves a similar debiasing effect. Study 3 studies the polar opposite of reason writing—the delegation of reason writing, which resembles the judge–law clerk delegation of opinion writing setting. I find that delegation serves to reinforce biases.
Keywords: reason writing, emotional judging, experiment
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