Blinking on the Bench: How Judges Decide Cases

By Jeffrey J. Rachlinski

How do judges judge? Do they apply law to facts in a mechanical and deliberative way, as the formalists suggest they do, or do they rely on hunches and gut feelings, as the realists maintain? Debate has raged for decades, but researchers have offered little hard evidence in support of either model. Relying on empirical studies of judicial reasoning and decision making, we propose an entirely new model of judging that provides a more accurate explanation of judicial behavior. Our model accounts for the tendency of the human brain to make automatic, snap judgments, which are surprisingly accurate, but which can also lead to erroneous decisions. Equipped with a better understanding of judging, we then propose several reforms that should lead to more just and accurate outcomes.

Jeffrey J. Rachlinski Henry Allen Mark Professor of Law
Photo of Jeffrey Rachlinski

Contact Information

Cornell Law School
122 Myron Taylor Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901

Phone: (607) 255-5878
Fax: (607) 255-7193


Bonnie Jo Coughlin
Cornell Law School
213 Myron Taylor Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901

Professional Biography

Jeffrey Rachlinski is an innovator in both administrative law, and in social psychology and the law. Since joining the Cornell Law School faculty in 1994, less than a year after receiving a Ph.D. in Psychology and a J.D. from Stanford University, Professor Rachlinski has offered new perspectives on the influence of human psychology on decision-making by courts, administrative agencies, and regulated communities. Professor Rachlinski's unique analytical viewpoint has led him to explore varied topics in legal practice, such as litigation strategies, punitive damages, administrative law, environmental law, and products liability.

One of the most versatile scholars at Cornell Law School, Professor Rachlinski has taught social and cognitive psychology for lawyers, administrative law, environmental law, civil procedure and torts.


B.A., M.A., (Psychology) The Johns Hopkins University, 1988
J.D., Stanford University, 1993
Ph.D., (Psychology) Stanford University, 1994