Justice needs a blindfold : Effects of defendants’ gender and attractiveness on judicial evaluation

University dissertation from Stockholm : Department of Psychology, Stockholm University

Abstract: Gender and appearance affect our judgments regarding an individual’s personality, profession, and morality, and create a reference frame within which to act toward that person. The main question of the present thesis is whether these kinds of stereotypical conceptions have implications for the judicial process: how professionals within the judicial process evaluate and judge a defendant, and how and what eyewitnesses remember. Expressed in other words: Is justice blind or do gender and appearances affect the treatment we receive in a judicial process?The main purpose of the present thesis was to study the effects of gender and attractiveness on evaluations of defendants accused of crimes of varying seriousness and type. The second theme was to study under what circumstances these effects are particularly strong; emotionality, retention interval, as well as gender and profession of evaluators, were controlled for.Study 1 aimed at investigating “pure” gender and attractiveness effects, with psychology students as participants. Study II added the variable of emotionality, as well as six groups of evaluators. Emotionality was studied by including emotional photographs of crime victim injury as well as two levels of vividness in the written description the evaluator was to read. The evaluators were professionals working within the judicial process in Sweden–judges, jury members, counsels for the defence, prosecutors, and police officers–as well as law students. Study 1 showed that a male defendant was evaluated more negatively than a female. Study II showed two main tendencies: (i) “same-sex penalty effect”: Sentencing evaluators (judges, jurors) evaluated a defendant of their own gender more harshly than one of the opposite gender; (ii) “male penalty effect”: Nonsentencing evaluators (police officers, counsels for the defence, prosecutors, and law students) evaluated and judged a male defendant more harshly than a female. Study III focused on exploring effects of violence (emotionality) and retention interval in the context of gender differences to investigate under which circumstances gender differences might be especially strengthened. Violence was manipulated using two acts: one neutral (walking in a store) and one violent (robbing the same store). Retention interval was of two lengths: 10 minutes and 1-3 weeks. Results revealed a gender-stereotype-enhancement effect, in which the evaluator evaluated the male defendant more harshly with the longer retention interval as well as in the violent act condition. The results of the present studies may have practical implications for the functioning of the judicial process; on the eyewitness hearing level (Study III) as well as on the evidence evaluation-, guilt-, and punishment assessment levels (Studies I and II).

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