Understanding Society

Tilburg University has been a reliable provider of high-quality education and research for more than eighty years. We specialize in the social sciences and humanities and we seek to make a structural contribution to society.

Emotions improve decisions made by judges

Many people think that judges should apply the law without any emotion at all and that any form of involvement may lead to partiality and bias. However, PhD candidate Maria IJzermans shows in her research that emotions inevitably affect the decisions of professional judges. It seems that emotions actually lead to more knowledge, and thus to more balanced decisions.

Modern literature on jurisprudence largely neglects the role of emotions in the law and the legal process. But the emotional state of the judge is often crucial because the experience of emotions leads to a very special form of knowledge. This is why emotions can help to influence judges and actually enhance the quality of their decision-making.

Judges’ emotions partly determine how they carry out their responsibilities, and this also influences the demands that are made of the legal process by those seeking justice. IJzermans also concludes that:

  • judges need to be aware of the emotional pitfalls which can lead them to ignore valid arguments;
  • attorneys should only appeal to appropriate emotions, and judges should only allow themselves to be swayed by appropriate emotions;
  • emotion can be used as a means of helping to influence a professional judge, even in today’s legal system. Modern attorneys can still use classic rhetorical devices as a means of using the emotions of the judge to their advantage, thus enhancing their powers of persuasion.

The conflicting demands of those involved in court cases

Those using the judicial system sometimes make contradictory demands of the judge when it comes to how they deal with emotions. On the one hand, they insist that judges should rise above their emotions in order to arrive at an objective decision. At the same time, however, they feel that judges must be empathetic in their decision-making and take their emotions into account. Understanding the effect of emotions and the use of emotional persuasion can enable the judge to negotiate a path between the conflicting demands made by those in court.

Title PhD thesis: The persuasive power of emotions in judicial decisions. Supervisor: Prof. W.J. Witteveen.