#74 A Well Timed Pizza Could Have Changed Old Red's Life: Food Matters

Being a parole judge is a powerful job. You’re all that stands between a prisoner and freedom.

Well, maybe not all. 

Maybe a tasty piece of pizza matters more than the judge.

Let me explain.

Researchers studied the past decisions of eight Israeli parole judges. The records included their final decision, the time of each case, and the time of each food break.

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And, shockingly, they found that you could somewhat predict the parole decisions without ever reviewing the facts of the case. All you had to know was the time of the judges' last meal.

Right AFTER eating, the parole approval rate was around 65%.

Right BEFORE eating, when the judges were operating on an empty stomach, the approval rate was almost exactly ZERO.

I repeat, ZERO.

Tired, hungry judges defaulted to NO, pretty much regardless of the facts of the case. 

Holy cow that’s scary. Think of the ramifications…

Old Red from Shawshank Redemption got turned down for parole twice. If he’d have found a way to bring a pizza with him to his hearing he could have been a free man decades earlier.


This parole study is highlighted in the book Thinking Fast and Slow by Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman. And the suspicion is that the results have something to do with depleted glucose levels. Using our brain for deep thought and decision-making consumes a whole lot of energy. And when that energy gets depleted our ability to reason suffers.

So if these highly trained and educated judges malfunction when they’re hungry, what about you and me?


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Does this mean we should always snack before a big decision?

Can’t hurt, but I’m not writing today to suggest that snacking leads to perfect decision making.

I’m writing as a reminder to myself that I, and you, make decisions using an imperfect, temperamental brain. Which kind of sucks, but I’d much rather know it than not know it. 

I've seen way more damage done by folks digging in and being too sure of themselves than from being too open-minded.

So this research reminds me to question my brain a bit. To avoid my tendency to get too dug in. To be just a bit more open to feedback from folks that care enough to share it. (If you'd like more information on this topic check out post#28 - PURGE Wrong Stories. There I talked about decision making when HANGRY or tired and the dangerous ways we dig in.)


(This site is all about building a Map that will help me do work and life better. So at the end of each post I check in to see if any changes / insights come to mind.)

So where does this fit on my MAP?  Wrong Stories from my SELF Map. This is a crystal clear example of how easy it is to get off track. To tell myself that I'm a decision-making savant when, in reality, I'm not. 


Daniel Kahneman’s book - Thinking Fast and Slow - is my favorite Wrong Stories book. He does a great job of explaining how we come to wrong or biased conclusions. And that’s why I’m doing this series of posts covering the topics that Kahneman writes about. Here’s a list of the prior posts in this series.

# 73 - Being A Jerk Seems To Work

I hope you enjoy them.

***Note: This site works best when you read the posts in order. So please head to the ARCHIVE to get started.