Are You Smarter Than a Judge?

The Journal of the American Bar Association recently reported that 295 judges at a judicial conference were given a three-question test, as part of a study to determine how judges make decisions.  The questions, devised by a professor at MIT, were geared toward assessing whether judges are “deliberative” or “intuitive” thinkers — i.e., whether they rule from the “head” or the “heart.”

Here are the questions:

If a bat and a ball cost $1.10 together, and the bat costs $1.00 more than the ball, how much does the ball cost?
If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long does it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?
In a lake, a patch of lily pads doubles in size each day.  If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover just half the lake?

Each question has a superficially appealing but wrong answer that, upon thoughtful deliberation, is easily understood to be wrong.  Thus, the answer to the first question is 5 cents, not 10 cents; the answer to the second is 5 minutes, not 100 minutes; and the lily pad covers half the pond on day 47 (not day 24), since it will double in size to cover the full pond on the next day.

How did you do?

Well, the judiciary didn’t fare so well on the test.  Believe it or not, a whopping 31% of the judges got all three questions wrong.  Fewer than half that number got all three questions right.  The conclusion of the study was that judges tend to be more “intuitive” than “deliberative.”  Or, put another way, in ruling on important court cases that come before them, many judges tend to “shoot from the hip.”

The entrepreneurial community is well-advised to consider that an “intuitive” as opposed to a “deliberative” decision making process only serves to increase the randomness of outcomes in contested matters.  This is one more reason why it is often best to settle even strong cases before they get to trial — as distasteful as that option may sometimes be.