Motivational Drivers for Serial Position Effects in High-Stakes Legal Decisions

Plonsky, O., Chen, D. L., Netzer L., Steiner, T., & Feldman, Y. (forthcoming). Motivational drivers for serial position effects: Evidence from high stakes legal decisions. Journal of Applied Psychology. DOI: 10.1037/apl0001064

86 Pages Posted: 5 Jul 2019 Last revised: 21 Oct 2022

See all articles by Ori Plonsky

Ori Plonsky

Technion-Israel Institute of Technology

Daniel L. Chen

Directeur de Recherche, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Toulouse School of Economics, Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, University of Toulouse Capitole, Toulouse, France

Liat Netzer

Israel Democracy Institute

Talya Steiner

Israel Democracy Institute

Yuval Feldman

Bar-Ilan University - Faculty of Law

Date Written: September 30, 2022

Abstract

Experts and employees in many domains make multiple similar but independent decisions in sequence. Often, the serial position of the case in the sequence influences the decision. Explanations for these serial position effects focus on the role of decision makers’ fatigue, but these effects emerge also when fatigue is unlikely. Here, we suggest that serial position effects can emerge due to decision makers’ motivation to be or appear to be consistent. For example, to avoid having inconsistencies revealed, decisions may become more favorable towards the side that is more likely to put a decision under scrutiny. As a context, we focus on the legal domain in which many high-stakes decisions are made in sequence and in which there are clear institutional processes of decision scrutiny. We analyze two field datasets: 386,109 US immigration judges’ decisions on asylum requests and 20,796 jury decisions in 18th century London criminal court. We distinguish between five mechanisms that can drive serial position effects and examine their predictions in these settings. We find that consistent with motivation-based explanations of serial position effects, but inconsistent with fatigue-based explanations, decisions become more lenient as a function of serial position, and the effect persists over breaks. We further find, as is predicted by motivational accounts, that the leniency effect is stronger among more experienced decision makers. By elucidating the different drivers of serial position effects, our investigation clarifies why they are common, when they are expected, and how to reduce them.

Keywords: sequential decision making; judicial decision making; legal decisions; order effects

Suggested Citation

Plonsky, Ori and Chen, Daniel L. and Netzer, Liat and Steiner, Talya and Feldman, Yuval, Motivational Drivers for Serial Position Effects in High-Stakes Legal Decisions (September 30, 2022). Plonsky, O., Chen, D. L., Netzer L., Steiner, T., & Feldman, Y. (forthcoming). Motivational drivers for serial position effects: Evidence from high stakes legal decisions. Journal of Applied Psychology. DOI: 10.1037/apl0001064, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3414155 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3414155

Ori Plonsky (Contact Author)

Technion-Israel Institute of Technology ( email )

Technion City
Haifa 32000, Haifa 32000
Israel

Daniel L. Chen

Directeur de Recherche, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Toulouse School of Economics, Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, University of Toulouse Capitole, Toulouse, France ( email )

Toulouse School of Economics
1, Esplanade de l'Université
Toulouse, 31080
France

Liat Netzer

Israel Democracy Institute ( email )

4 Pinsker St.
Jerusalem
Israel

Talya Steiner

Israel Democracy Institute ( email )

4 Pinsker St.
Jerusalem
Israel

Yuval Feldman

Bar-Ilan University - Faculty of Law ( email )

Faculty of Law
Ramat Gan, 52900
Israel

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