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Emotions Control

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. Pollack

Recently, I stumbled across an interesting study published online by the ABA Journal (aka American Bar Association Journal). Researchers discovered that when the LSU Tigers unexpectedly lose a football game, the juvenile judges take their anger/frustration at the loss out on the juveniles before them by imposing longer sentences. (“Louisiana juveniles got longer sentences after unexpected LSU football losses, study finds”  posted online September 8, 2016)

I am particularly amused by this study because I attended both undergraduate and law school at Tulane University in New Orleans, La., a longtime rival of LSU. After many years of Tulane losing in football to LSU, the teams no longer play each other, but the rivalry still exists.

Anyhow—back to the study. The researchers- Ozkan Eren and Naci Mocan- two economic professors at LSU- found that the average length that the judges sentenced juveniles to probation and jail time was about 513 days. However, when LSU football suffered an unexpected loss – that disposition increased by about 35 days. Moreover, when LSU was ranked in the top 10 before a particular game and then lost, the disposition was almost twice as bad– by an average of 63 days longer.

Evidently, this occurred even where the judge did NOT attend LSU as an undergraduate. Where the judge did attend LSU, the disposition was even more severe- 74 days longer.

The economists factored the race of the juvenile into this study finding that a black American juvenile bore the brunt of the judge’s upset; when LSU lost, the black juvenile received a 46-day increase in disposition. By contrast, the white juvenile received only an eight-day increase in disposition.

In making these findings, the researchers looked at over 8,200 cases involving first offenses other than first degree murder and aggravated rape decided by 207 different judges.

The takeaway is that emotional shock can indeed influence behavior. Or, as the researchers noted:

The takeaway of the study is the need to be mindful of the impact of emotional stresses, he says. “Emotions have powerful impacts on decisions, judgments and choices, even among individuals who are highly educated,” he says. “Perhaps being mindful of this will help the judges filter out these effects.” (Id.)

 As Tulane has had a middling football team for decades, I doubt the juvenile court judges in New Orleans and the surrounding parishes (whether they attended Tulane) suffer from this same emotional impact. Tulane has not been known for its football successes and so no one gets too upset when it loses. If anything, they are overjoyed when the Green Wave (aka the Greenies) wins and may take this positive effect out on juveniles by shortening the disposition times.

Seriously, as other scholars note, our decisions ARE emotional no matter how rationale we believe we are acting. So, even when engaged in what appears to be a very mundane matter of fact dispute, beware, your decisions are being governed by your emotions!

… Just something to think about.

                        author

Phyllis Pollack

Phyllis Pollack with PGP Mediation uses a facilitative, interest-based approach. Her preferred mediation style is facilitative in the belief that the best and most durable resolutions are those achieved by the parties themselves. The parties generally know the business issues and priorities, personalities and obstacles to a successful resolution as… MORE >

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