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Holger Spamann & Lars Klöhn, Can Law Students Replace Judges in Experiments of Judicial Decision-Making? (Harv. Pub. L. Work. Paper No. 23-22 Feb. 16, 2023).


Abstract: Experimental research on judicial decision-making is hampered by the difficulty of recruiting judges as experimental participants. Can students be used in judges’ stead? Unfortunately, no. We ran the same high-context 2×2 factorial experiment of judicial decision-making focused on legal reasoning with 31 U.S. federal judges and 91 elite U.S. law students. We obtained diametrically opposed results. Judges’ decisions were strongly associated with one factor (sympathy, i.e., bias) but not the other (law). For students, it was the other way around. Equality between the two groups is strongly rejected. Equality of document-view patterns—a proxy for thought processes—and written reasons is also strongly rejected.