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Bankruptcy judges, Generalist judges, Specialist judges, Judicial decision making, Anchoring, Framing, Omission bias, Debtor's race, Debtor's apology


Judges | Law and Psychology | Legal History


In this paper, we extend our prior work on generalist judges to explore whether specialization leads to superior judicial decision making. To do so, we report the results of a study of federal bankruptcy judges. In one prior study of bankruptcy judges, Ted Eisenberg reported evidence suggesting that bankruptcy judges, like generalist judges, are susceptible to the "self-serving" or "egocentric" bias when making judgments. Here, we report evidence showing that bankruptcy judges are vulnerable to anchoring and framing effects, but appear largely unaffected by the omission bias, a debtor's race, a debtor's apology, and "terror management" or "mortality salience."'

Because we do not directly compare generalist judges to bankruptcy judges with the same materials, we are somewhat limited in the inferences we can draw about the advantages or disadvantages of specialization. On balance, the evidence we report below suggests that bankruptcy judges perform at least as well as generalist judges. We also find evidence, however, of a correlation between the bankruptcy judges' political views and the outcomes in some cases; namely, we find some evidence suggesting that Republican judges are more pro-creditor than Democratic judges. As we discuss, this result suggests one potential downside of specialization that we did not anticipate – it might politicize the bench.

Publication Citation

Published in: Boston University Law Review, vol. 86, no. 5 (December 2006).