Sentencing Under Uncertainty: Anchoring Effects in the Courtroom1


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    The present research was supported by a grant from the German Science Foundation (DFG, grant number 264/17–1). We would like to thank Fritz Strack for his helpful suggestions concerning this research.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Birte Englich, Psychologic 11, Universitat Wurzburg, Rontgenring 10, D-97070 Wurzburg, Germany, e-mail:


Research on juridical decision making has demonstrated that largely disparate sentences are often given for identical crimes. This may be the case because judges' sentencing decisions are influenced by a recommended or demanded sentence. Building on research on judgmental anchoring (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974), the present investigation examines whether a sentencing demand has a direct influence on a given sentence. Using criminal trial judges as participants, Study 1 demonstrates that such a direct influence does, in fact, exist. Sentencing decisions are assimilated to the sentence demanded by the prosecutor. Study 2 further reveals that this influence is independent of the perceived relevance of the sentencing demand. Study 3 demonstrates that this influence is also independent of judges' experience.