Best to Be Last: Serial Position Effects in Legal Decisions in the Field and in the Lab

56 Pages Posted: 5 Jul 2019 Last revised: 21 Jul 2020

See all articles by Ori Plonsky

Ori Plonsky

Technion-Israel Institute of Technology - The William Davidson Faculty of Industrial Engineering & Management

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: July 20, 2020

Abstract

Experts in many domains, from education and finances to sports and entertainment, make multiple similar but independent decisions in sequence. Does the mere serial position of a case in a sequence influence the decision? We focus on the legal domain in which many high-stakes decisions are made in a sequence and justice considerations imply irrelevant factors like serial position of a case must not impact decision making. We identify four mechanisms that can drive serial position effects and note each can have different predictions, hence existence and direction of such effects are empirical questions. Indeed, most empirical evidence from non-legal settings suggests decisions become more favorable with serial position, but a previous study of sequences of parole hearings finds the opposite effect. 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, and find decisions become more favorable (lenient) the later a decision is made in a sequence of decisions. To complement the analysis, we run three controlled experiments with laypeople and find similar results. We conclude that while serial position effects may be context-specific, from the point of view of the individual involved, it is often best to be last.

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, Best to Be Last: Serial Position Effects in Legal Decisions in the Field and in the Lab (July 20, 2020). Bar Ilan University Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 19-15, 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 - The William Davidson Faculty of Industrial Engineering & Management ( email )

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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