Emotional Judges and Unlucky Juveniles

Economists Ozkan Eren and Naci Mocan examine the effect of college football team losses on fans' emotional state and find that criminal court judges hand down longer prison sentences shortly after the judges' alma mater unexpectedly loses a football game.


In this paper, we test the predictions of general class of expectation-based reference point models by exploiting a natural experiment. We analyze the behavior of a highly educated group of professionals, the behavior of whom should, by law, be free of person-speci…fic reference points. Specifically, we examine the effects of emotional shocks associated with the unexpected outcomes of games played by a prominent college football team on judicial decisions handed down by judges. We …find that unexpected losses increase disposition length on juvenile defendants imposed by the judges by around 6.4 percent. Unexpected wins, on the other hand, have no effect on judges’ decisions. Similarly, losses when the game was expected to be close have no significant impact. Our results also show that the effects of emotional shocks on disposition length stemming from unexpected losses are larger for minorities suggesting evidence for treatment disparity. Finally, we implement a similar analysis using the game outcomes for the local professional football team and …find no effects from unexpected losses or wins.

Read the full working paper here.