Does Unconscious Bias Affect Trial Judges?

40 Pages Posted: 11 Jul 2007

See all articles by Jeffrey J. Rachlinski

Jeffrey J. Rachlinski

Cornell Law School

Sheri Lynn Johnson

Cornell Law School

Andrew J. Wistrich

California Central District Court

Chris Guthrie

Vanderbilt University - Law School

Date Written: July 9, 2007

Abstract

Research suggesting the influence of unconscious racism and sexism has proliferated in recent years. Even people who embrace explicitly egalitarian norms harbor invidious implicit associations concerning women and minorities. But do these implicit attitudes affect behavior in a legal context? To study this, we recruited 80 trial judges from a large urban jurisdiction to participate in a study of "the psychology of judging." In the study, we assessed the influence of implicit associations in judges two different ways. First, we sought to replicate a previous study conducted on police and parole officers which found that "priming" these actors with cues intended to trigger associations with African-Americans produced negatives assessments of two hypothetical juvenile offenders. Second, we had judges assess hypothetical scenarios in which the race or gender of the primary character varied and correlated these results with judges' implicit associations concerning race or gender. Although we found evidence that judges held invidious implicit associations, we found no evidence that implicit associations affected their judgment.

Suggested Citation

Rachlinski, Jeffrey John and Johnson, Sheri Lynn and Wistrich, Andrew J. and Guthrie, Chris, Does Unconscious Bias Affect Trial Judges? (July 9, 2007). 2nd Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=999490 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.999490

Jeffrey John Rachlinski

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States
607-255-5878 (Phone)
607-255-7193 (Fax)

Sheri Lynn Johnson (Contact Author)

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States
607-255-6478 (Phone)
607-255-7193 (Fax)

Andrew J. Wistrich

California Central District Court ( email )

Los Angeles, CA 90012
United States

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)

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