In the Crime module in psychology of the courtroom we look at what factors influence juries decisions and one of the studies that I use is the Castello et al. study which looks at how the attractiveness of a defendant in relation to that of the plaintiff may be a variable in a guilty verdict in a sexual harassment case.
More research to back up this thesis has recently been discussed in a recent BPS Press release which has found again that attractive defendants were less likely to be found guilty:
“The study involved 96 participants, 48 white and 48 black, given a fictitious transcript of a â€˜muggingâ€™ with an attached photograph of the defendant. The transcript content remained constant but photos varied depending on condition participants were blindly allocated to. In some cases the defendants were attractive and in others not, in some they were white and in others not.
… â€œjurorsâ€ were less likely to find attractive defendants guilty and were more likely to find less attractive defendants guilty on the scale used. An interesting finding was that ethnicity had no effect on whether or not defendants were found guilty. However, unattractive black defendants who were found guilty were given harsher sentences than white ones irrespective of the ethnicity of the â€œjuror.”
Also, it has also been highlighted that this effect could be a cross cultural one. There are many other studies of mock-juror decision making and defendant characteristics, including attractiveness; the relationship is somewhat complex but it is usually advantageous for a defendant to be good looking, e.g.:
“A meta-analysis of experimental research on mock juror judgments was conducted to test the theory that jurors use characteristics that are correlated with criminal behavior as cues to infer guilt and to recommend punishment. In general, it was advantageous for defendants to be physically attractive, female … although these advantages were nil for some crimes. There were no overall effects of race on mock jurorsâ€™ judgments, but the effect of defendant race on punishment was strongly moderated by type of crime.”
These studies (and many others) show how easily we make impressions about a persons guilt based only on physical attractiveness. This has obvious implications when considering the validity and reliability of jury decisions. Whilst researching this post the most concerning finding that I found was from a US psychologists work on sentencing where she found that “…male murderers with stereotypically â€˜black-lookingâ€™ features are more than twice as likely to get the death sentence than lighter-skinned African American defendants found guilty of killing a white person.”
Evokes many thoughts and I would hope critical discussions, don’t you think?
Taken from crimepsychblog.com (a fab blog relating psychology to crime: well recommended) – apologies for not pointing this out the first time Emma – very bad of me I know. :)