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Playing Dice With Criminal Sentences: The Influence of Irrelevant Anchors on Experts' Judicial Decision Making

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Judicial sentencing decisions should be guided by facts, not by chance. The present research however demonstrates that the sentencing decisions of experienced legal professionals are influenced by irrelevant sentencing demands even if they are blatantly determined at random. Participating legal experts anchored their sentencing decisions on a given sentencing demand and assimilated toward it even if this demand came from an irrelevant source (Study 1), they were informed that this demand was randomly determined (Study 2), or they randomly determined this demand themselves by throwing dice (Study 3). Expertise and experience did not reduce this effect. This sentencing bias appears to be produced by a selective increase in the accessibility of arguments that are consistent with the random sentencing demand: The accessibility of incriminating arguments was higher if participants were confronted with a high rather than a low anchor (Study 4). Practical and theoretical implications of this research are discussed.
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... Another example from more recent literature, and perhaps a more serious one is finding evidence of anchoring in the courtroom. In the paper Englich et al. (2006), they investigate the anchor effects on judicial decision making in the courtroom. ...
... At the beginning of the paper, Englich et al. (2006) prefaces that judges are indeed trained professionals, and that the legal system has protocols and guidelines that are put in place to minimize irrelevant influences on the decision making process; such as the penal code that defines a set of criteria for defining crimes. An example being the several degrees of murder in US law, and another being the process of verifying conflicts of interest before a verdict is reached. ...
... An example being the several degrees of murder in US law, and another being the process of verifying conflicts of interest before a verdict is reached. Englich et al. (2006) also reassures everyone that judges and legal decision makers have been thoroughly trained in their specific domains in law, and so are very prepared in making decisions in their domain. They also epmhasize the weight of the decisions made by legal decision makers to be of far greater importance compared to those in typical experimental settings. ...
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This is a compilation of essays written for my graduate Behavioral Economics course whilst completing my Master's degree at the University of Hong Kong. The essays make some discussion on several key elements in the field, both old and new. I start off with departures from expected utiiliy theory (EUT), the common mainstream framework in Economics when modelling human behavior under risk \& uncertainty. I slowly work my way up to discussing the models used in the field up to potential applications and further discussion on elements found in contemporary literature in the field.
... The broad literature on heuristics and biases is primarily captured on the bottom left side of Figure 1, a framework depicting how bias affects human judgment. Many studies have documented susceptibility to unintended influences of biased Type 1 processing in consequential real-world judgments, such as decisions made by doctors (e.g., Arkes et al., 1981;Drew et al., 2013), auditors (e.g., Anderson et al., 1993), pilots (e.g., Walmsley & Gilbey, 2016), police investigators (e.g., Kassin et al., 2005), intelligence analysts (e.g., Reyna et al., 2014), psychologists (e.g., , real estate agents (e.g., Northcraft & Neale, 1987), forensic scientists (e.g., Dror et al., 2006), and judges and lawyers (e.g., Englich et al., 2006;Furgeson et al., 2008;Girvan et al., 2015;Rachlinski et al., 2009), among others. ...
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Preprint
Objectives: Cognitive biases can impact experts’ judgments and decisions. We offer a broad descriptive model of how bias affects human judgment. And although studies have explored the role of cognitive biases and debiasing techniques in forensic mental health, we conducted the first systematic review to identify, evaluate, and summarize the findings.Hypotheses: Due to the exploratory nature of this review, we did not test formal hypotheses. General research questions included the proportion of studies focusing on cognitive biases and/or debiasing, what research methods were applied, the cognitive biases and debiasing strategies empirically studied in the forensic context, how they affect forensic mental health decisions, and effect sizes.Method: A systematic search of PsycINFO and Google Scholar resulted in 22 records comprising 23 studies in the United States, Canada, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. We extracted data on participants, context, methods, and results.Results: Most studies focused only on cognitive biases (n=16, 69.6%), with fewer investigating ways to address them (n=7, 30.4%). Of the 17 studies that tested for biases, most found significant effects (n=10, 58.8%), four found partial effects (23.5%), and three found no effects (17.6%). Foci included general perceptions of biases, adversarial allegiance, bias blind spot, hindsight and confirmation biases, moral disengagement, primacy and recency effects, interview suggestibility, and cross-cultural, racial, and gender biases. Of the seven debiasing-related studies, nearly all (n=6) focused at least in part on the general perception of debiasing strategies, with three testing for specific effects (i.e., cognitive bias training, consider-the-opposite, and introspection caution), the first two of which yielded significant effects.Conclusions: Considerable clinical and methodological heterogeneity limited quantitative comparability. Future research could build on the existing literature to develop or adapt effective debiasing strategies in collaboration with practitioners to improve the quality of forensic mental health decisions.Public Significance Statement: Evidence of bias in forensic mental health emerged in ways consistent with what we know about human judgment broadly. We know less about how to debias judgments–an important frontier for future research. Better understanding how bias works and developing effective debiasing strategies tailored to the forensic mental health context holds promise for improving quality. Until then, we can use what we know now toward limiting bias in our work.
... Indeed, leading scholars have identified studies on the use of behavioral sciences within organizations as a promising new frontier (Chapman et al., 2021;Soman & Yeung, 2021). Thus far, empirical evidence has shown that public professionals use cognitive biases in delivering public service (Battaglio et al., 2018;Bellé et al., 2018;Butler & Broockman, 2011;Englich et al., 2006;Meier et al., 2015;Viscusi & Gayer, 2015). Sheffer et al., 2018). ...
... On top of that, increased understanding of the problem at hand does not discard anchoring bias. Experts are susceptible to anchoring bias, too (Englich et al., 2006;Guthrie & Orr, 2006). Our sub-group analyses also indicate that the anchoring effect is relevant for managers as well as employees. ...
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The rise of behavioral public administration demonstrated that we can understand and change decision-making by using insights about heuristics. Heuristics are mental shortcuts that reduce complex tasks to simpler ones. Whereas earlier studies mainly focused on interventions such as nudges, scholars are now broadening their scope to include debiasing, and psychological theories beyond heuristics. Scholars are moreover shifting their attention away from citizen-focused interventions to public sector worker-oriented interventions, i.e. the very people who are expected to nudge society. This dissertation seeks to explore how behavioral sciences can facilitate understanding and support decision-making across the public sector. We present four studies that investigate a range of behavioral theories, practices, issues and public sector workers. This dissertation shows that when handling heuristics in the public sector, we need to take into account the institutional and situational settings, as well as differences between public sector workers. The results of this dissertation can be used by practitioners and academics to understand and support decision-making in public sector contexts.
... As a pervasive bias, the anchoring effect was not only demonstrated in the laboratory but also in real-world settings (Teovanovic, 2019). This effect has been demonstrated in probability estimates (Chapman & Johnson, 1999;Plous, 1989), general knowledge (Englich et al., 2006;Epley & Gilovich, 2001;Jacowitz & Kahneman, 1995;McElroy & Dowd, 2007;Mussweiler & Strack, 1999;, legal judgments (Englich et al., 2005;Englich & Soder, 2009), consumer decisions and willingness to pay (Ariely et al., 2003;Green et al., 1998;Simonson & Drolet, 2004;Stewart, 2009;Wansink et al., 1998), negotiations (Galinsky & Mussweiler, 2001), and so on. ...
... Participants A total of 43 healthy undergraduates (35 females) participated in this experiment. The anchoring effect is so strong effect that researchers could use only 40 or so subjects to produce this phenomenon (Englich et al., 2006(Englich et al., , 2005Mussweiler & Strack, 1999). Following this practice, in Experiments 1-3 of this paper, we intended to recruit 40 subjects, but sometimes fewer or more subjects showed up. ...
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... Although judges have been demonstrated to be better decision makers than laypeople, even professionals rely heavily on intuitive reasoning in their decisions (Englich et al. 2006;Guthrie et al. 2007;Rachlinski and Wistrich 2017). Previous studies have consistently demonstrated that laypeople's intuitive reasoning is based on retributive justification (Carlsmith 2006;Carlsmith et al. 2002;Keller et al. 2010;Oswald et al. 2002;Rucker et al. 2004;Watamura et al. 2011;Weiner et al. 1997). ...
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