Does Reason Writing Reduce Decision Bias? Experimental Evidence from Judges in China

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Anecdotal evidence and academic research show that judges’ subjective feelings toward litigants have undue influence on their judgments. This article suggests a simple debiasing procedure, namely, requiring judges to write their reasons before making a decision. I conduct experiments on incumbent Chinese judges to test its effectiveness. Study 1 uses a between-subjects design to explore the interaction of reason writing and a stimulus that induces a judge to have negative feelings toward a defendant. Judges who are required to write down their reasons before they decide a case are significantly less affected by the stimulus than those who directly enter the decision-making stage. Study 2 provides evidence that a forced deliberation period achieves a similar debiasing effect. Study 3 examines the opposite of reason writing— the delegation of reason writing, which resembles the delegation of opinion writing by judges to law clerks. I find that delegation serves to reinforce biases.

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