Are Judges Intuitive or Analytical? Ruminations on the Cognitive Style of Judges

by Lee Gesmer on June 3, 2008

The best aspect of law school is the subordination of math. Anon


Are judges good at math? Foolish question, of course. Since many lawyers have a math phobia, it follows that many judges would, as well.

Nevertheless, a group of academics gave a three-question quiz to a group of several hundred trial judges. The purpose of the quiz was to determine whether the judges’ style of cognitive reflection, as a group, was “intuitive” (i.e., bad) or “analytical (i.e. “good”) decision makers.

Here are the three questions. Each one is designed to have you “jump” to a quick, intuitive wrong answer, whereas analytical reflection will lead to the non-obvious right answer.

(1) A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? _____cents

(2) If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets? _____minutes

(3) In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake? _____days.

Not surprisingly, the judges failed miserably. 31% got all three questions wrong, and only 15% got all three right. Yes, for the most part lawyers and judges are bad at math. Does that mean they are intuitive and not analytical? I don’t think so. Ask the question in the wrong language, and you are sure to get the wrong answer. I think judges and lawyers are particularly good at an (arguably) more complex, but certainly different, kind of analytical thinking that may not carry over into straight logic or mathematics.

Here is a link to a download site for the study: Blinking on the Bench: How Judges Decide Cases

Oh, and if you’ve taken the test yourself, click here to see how you did. If you’re a lawyer and you can’t figure out how these answers are correct (and your “intuitive” answers were wrong), you should be very glad that you went to law school.

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