The unwitting participants in the study were eight parole judges in Israel. They spend entire days reviewing applications for parole. The cases are presented in random order, and the judges spend little time on each one, an average of 6 minutes. (The default decision is denial of parole; only 35% of requests are approved. The exact time of each decision is recorded, and the times of the judges’ three food breaks — morning break, lunch, and afternoon break — during the day are recorded as well.) The authors of the study plotted the proportion of approved requests against the time since the last food break. The proportion spikes after each meal, when about 65% of requests are granted. During the two hours or so until the judges’ next feeding, the approval rate drops steadily, to about zero just before the meal. As you might expect, this is an unwelcome result and the authors carefully checked many alternative explanations. The best possible account of the data provides bad news: tired and hungry judges tend to fall back on the easier default position of denying requests for parole. Both fatigue and hunger probably play a role.
Mike Jacka writing for Internal Auditor explores the effect that our working conditions and environment have on our thinking, and the different roles that fast and slow thinking play in our work. He asks that the reader be aware of how the conditions in which they are thinking can affect (often unintentionally) the decisions they make.
As auditors (and as humans), honing a degree of self-awareness about how we are affected by the weather (or the bad traffic, or the argument we had last week with a family member, or the timing of lunch- whatever it may be) will help us look critically at our own thoughts. Are we actually making sound decisions? Or are we making rash and unfair decisions? What effect might this have on our work? And just as importantly, how can we counterbalance our fast thinking with slow thinking to make better decisions?