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American football results could influence juvenile sentences

16 March 2017

A research paper by two United States economists has exposed a correlation between the sentences handed down by American youth court judges and the unexpected outcome of American football games; specifically, those of Louisiana State University (LSU).

In Emotional Judges and Unlucky Juveniles, Professor Ozkan Eren and Dr Naci Mocan of the National Bureau of Economic Research had access to Louisiana defendant files from 1996-2012 and could work out identifiers allowing them to gather information on race, gender, age and team affiliation of defendants and presiding judges.

“First, the research investigates the impact of an emotional shock among a group of decision-makers (judges) who are uniformly highly educated. Second, the decisions analysed in the paper are made within the constraints of legal framework which should minimise the extent of capricious judgements.” The resulting hypothesis being that the emotional stress of judges can be responsible for their incarceration verdicts.

Professor Eren and Dr Mocan also found that of the 26% of juveniles incarcerated, 62% were black while 36% were white. They also noted that “an overwhelming majority of judges (88%) are white, and only about 23% are female.”

“To build upon this evidence, we collected data on pregame point spreads and final scores of all LSU college football games for the seasons from 1996-2012 and ran a simple regression of the actual spread on the predicted spread (closing value of the pregame point spread).”

They say emotional stress, imposed on judges externally, prompts them to impose harsher sentences on defendants "who were unlucky enough to face the judge during the period of stress.”

This “period of stress” was worked out to be the five work-days following the Saturday American football game.

The paper concluded that, in short, “The reaction of judges to an upset football loss cannot be attributed to decision fatigue of judges because the impact of an upset loss lasts for one work-week.”

Last updated on the 16th March 2017