psychology: Effects of Attractiveness on Jury Decision Making

The purpose of this study was to investigate the influence of personal characteristics of the defendant and the victim on jury decision making. The participants of jury simulation research were asking to read the summary of the fact and four different scenarios. They were asked several questions about how they felt about the defendant and the victim. Each participant recommended a sentence for a defendant. Results showed that a defendant was rated more favorably when described as having attractive character. Besides, the length of the sentence did not differ significantly subject to the character description of the defendant.
The findings of this study can help to understand why jurors take certain decision, why they behave like they behave and what important characteristics of defendants influence them.
There are quite a lot of various factors that can influence jury decision making. Some of the important factors are the personal characteristics and socio-economic status of a defendant that have a great influence on the assessment of guilt by jury member. It has been shown that the defendant’s appearance can have a great impact on juror’s perception. As a rule, attractive people enjoy more people’s confidence than unattractive ones. And at the court they also can be treated with more leniencies and tolerance.
Many social and forensic psychologists have become interested in studying this issue. They investigated different aspects of it including personal characteristics of the defendant, of the victim, of the jury members, etc. Speaking about personal characteristics, there should be pointed out that physical appearance, person’s attractiveness are the most obvious characteristics that can have positive as well as negative impacts on people. Because it is the first thing by which we judge about a person.
There are a lot of researchers investigating the influence of the defendant’s attractiveness on juror’s decisions of guilt or innocence. There should be mentioned: Landy and Aronson (1969); Dion, Berscheid, and Walster (1972); Efran (1974); Nemeth and Sosis (1073) and others.
In the present research it was hypothesized that an attractive character description would provide positive perception of the defendant while negative description would cause negative one. Besides, the second hypothesis concerned the fact that more attractive defendant would receive shorter and more lenient sentence recommendation.
Opening paragraph
The present study was devoted to the investigation of an attractiveness of the defendant and its influence on the length of the sentence. The participants were asked to rate the defendant’s attractiveness according to the proposed scenarios and to determine his sentence. This research is very important, as reveals significant aspects of juror’s decision making. The present research allowed us to receive quite valid data on the individual level. So, the thesis statement of this research is that it investigates individual level of juror decision making without taking into account collective form of decision making.
Literature review
As it was mentioned in the introduction, there are many researchers who investigate the influence of the attractiveness of the defendant on juror decision making. In particular, Landy and Aronson (1969) conducted their research using the case of a driving accident as a result of the defendant’s alcohol intoxication. The results of their research were not very effective, that’s why in the present research there were used the case and scenarios from Landy and Aronson’s study to verify their findings. Another researchers, Nemeth and Sosis (1073) carried out a simulated jury study. They use in their investigation a new method – group discussion, as they supposed that it could have less influence on the length of the sentence and inappropriate juror’s decisions while individual decision making could distort the perception of the defendant. Dion, Berscheid, and Walster (1972) studied the correlation between the attractiveness and desirable social skills of people. They used the following method: they showed photographs of different people to the participants of the research. The participants were asked to rate them according to their socially desirable traits. The result revealed that more attractive people were rated as having more socially desirable skills. Besides, in their study, some photographs of children who committed severe crimes were proposed to the participants. The results showed that the crimes were perceived as less severe and less negative if attractive children committed them. Moreover, the participants claimed that attractive children would never commit a crime again, while unattractive would be able to do it.
Efran (1974) researched the influence of a defendant’s attractiveness on the length and the level of severance of the sentence. At first, the participants were asked to answer the pre-experimental questionnaire. As a result, 79% of the participant claimed that the jurors should take into account first of all the dependant’s physical attractiveness. Then the researcher proposed photographs of attractive and unattractive students with the described case of their cheating. The participants had to rate them according to six-point scale. The results showed that the attractive defendants received shorter and milder punishment.
Mazzela and Feingold (1994) conducted another interesting study. They carried out a meta-analysis that included 80 studies. There were 25 studies directed at the research of physical attractiveness. The results were the following: mock jurors were disposed to find attractive defendant less guilty in comparison with unattractive ones. In their investigation the researchers analyzed the correlation between physical attractiveness and the length of the sentence depending on the kind of a crime. In other words, they found that the attractive defendant received the same sentence as unattractive defendants if their crime was swindling. On the other hand, in case of cheating, robbery and rape attractive defendants received shorter and less severe sentence.
Another researchers, Sigall and Ostrove (1975), studied the correlation between the defendant’s attractiveness, the kind of his crime and juror’s decision. They got very interesting results. First of all, they stated that if a defendant was charged with a crime that did not deal with the physical appearance, attractive defendant received less severe punishment. But if the crime related to physical attractiveness of a person, such as fraud, the attractive defendants received more sever sentence, than unattractive defendants.
Final Summary
Most of the presented researches show us that attractive defendants often receive shorter, milder and lenient sentences and punishments than unattractive defendants. They are more often considered to be less guilty and able to commit crimes in future. This happens because people always believe that an attractive person is a good person, and only unattractive people are guilty of crimes. This is a stereotype of our society, which naturally influences jurors’ judgments, decisions, and sentences. The present study aims at replicate the results of previous researches, in particular of Landy and Aronson’s study, and at investigate how character description influence juror decision making.
A total of 128 people (61 males and 67 females) were haphazardly selected in the San Diego Country area, in California.
2 x 2 design is used, as there are two independent variables –
attractiveness of victim and attractiveness of defendant, each of which has two levels of variation – attractive & unattractive. There are four conditions in this experiment: 1) attractive victim, attractive defendant; 2) unattractive victim, unattractive defendant; 3) attractive victim, unattractive defendant; 4) unattractive victim, attractive defendant.
Materials & Procedure
The participants were asked to read the summary of the fact and then each of the four different scenarios. The case was about a driving accident caused by the defendant’s (Sander) alcohol intoxication. John Sander was driving an annual Christmas office on the evening of December 24 when his automobile killed a pedestrian by the name of Martin Lowe.
The circumstances leading to this event were following: the employee of the insurance office where Sander worked began to party at around 2:00 P.M. By 5:00 P.M. Sander had had several drinks. Soon the party was beginning to break up. Sander left the office building and drove home. Then a policeman stooped him for reckless driving. He said that he would let Sander off if he would promise to leave his car and take a taxi. Sander agreed. But the minute the taxi had returned a corner; Sander told the driver to stop and came back to his own car. Upon reaching he drove off. He ran a red light and stuck Lowe, who was crossing the street. Lowe died a few minutes later in the way to the hospital. Sander was charged with negligent homicide. The police medical examiner’s report indicated that Sander’s estimated blood alcohol concentration was between 2.5 and 3.0%.
After reading the fact, the participants were proposed to read the scenarios.
There were four scenarios: attractive victim, attractive defendant; unattractive victim, unattractive defendant; attractive victim, unattractive defendant; unattractive victim, attractive defendant.
The attractive victim was described as a noted architect of the city and prominent member of the community. He designed a lot of wonderful buildings through out the state and was an active member of community welfare board. He was a founding member of an orphanage. At the time the accident he was on his way to the orphanage to deliver Christmas gifts.
The unattractive victim was described as a notorious gangster and Syndicate boss who had been vying for power in the syndicate controlling the state’s underworld activities. He was allegedly responsible for massacre of 5 men. At the time of the accident he was carrying a loaded 32-calibre pistol. He was out of jail on bond and was awaiting trial for mall fraud and income tax invasion.
As an attractive person, the defendant was depicted as a 64-year-old insurance adjustor. He was employed for 42 years and was known as a good worker and friendly person. He was a widower as his wife recently died of cancer. He was going to spend Christmas Eve with his son and daughter-in-law. The cause of the accident was his gun wound aggravated at the moment of the accident.
The unattractive defendant was 33-year-old janitor. He was not known by many of the employees of his office. He was 2-time divorcee, with three children by his first wife. He was going to have Christmas Eve with his girlfriend at her apartment. He did not suffer any major injuries n the accident. He had two misdemeanors on his criminal record for breaking and entering and a drug violation.
The defendant was accused of negligent automobile homicide. That crime is punishable by imprisonment of one to twenty-five years in the state.
The participants were asked to render the length of the defendant’s sentence according to each of the four scenarios.
The participants were also asked several questions about how they felt about the defendant and the victim. They had to use a nine-point scale from “extremely favorable” to “extremely unfavorable”.
The mean age of participants was 29,3. The sample was represented by the males as well as by the females.
At the end of the experiment the participant were thanked for their participation and were asked to refrain from discussing the case with anyone. They were informed that if they would like to ask anything more about the study or would like to see the results, they could contact the researcher.
Manipulation check
A manipulation check was given to the participants to see if they perceived the independent variable, as it was hypothesized. After reading the case and four scenarios, the participants were asked to rate the favorability of the defendant according to the scale from 1 to 9. The results showed that favorability rating of the defendant differed subject to his character description, t(126)=2.14, p.05. Nevertheless, the results were received in the intended manner. Sentence recommendations for the unattractive defendant (M=15.28, SD= 8.32) were a bit longer, than for the attractive defendant (M=13.30, SD=7.86). But this difference was not statistically very significant.
Victim analysis
The results showed that favorability rating of the victim differed subject to his character description, t(126)= 7.92,p
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