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Is Justice Really Blind?: Effects of Crime Descriptions, Defendant Gender and Appearance, and Legal Practitioner Gender on Sentences and Defendant Evaluations in a Mock Trial
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology. (Research group for forensic psychology)
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology.
2010 (English)In: Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, ISSN 1321-8719, E-ISSN 1934-1687, Vol. 17, no 2, 304-324 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Two experiments were conducted to investigate how sources of information can bias the judicial process. Experiment 1 investigated the effects of photographs of victims’ injury, and of vivid verbal victim injury description, on the evaluation and sentencing of a defendant in a mock criminal trial. The participants were presented with five different crime accounts: (a) vandalism, (b) arson, (c) child abuse, (d) child molestation, and (e) homicide, all committed by male perpetrators, and were asked to evaluate the trustworthiness, culpability, aggressiveness, guilt, and other crime-relevant personality traits of the defendant, and to set imprisonment sentences. Results of Experiment 1 showed that exposure to photographs of crime victim injuries as well as vivid crime descriptions had only weak and non-significant effects on defendant evaluations, but imprisonment terms tended to be longer in the Photo condition than in the No photo condition. To further investigate the possible effects of photographic information on judicial processes for different crimes (child molestation, child abuse, homicide), Experiment 2 was conducted with legal practitioners (judges, members of Swedish juries, law students, counsels for the defence, prosecutors, police officers) as evaluators. Results showed three tendencies: (a) a ‘‘same-sex penalty effect’’: sentencing evaluators (judges, jurors) evaluated a defendant of the same gender as the evaluator, more harshly than one of the opposite gender, (b) a ‘‘male penalty effect’’: non-sentencing evaluators (police officers, counsels for the defence, prosecutors, and law students) evaluated and judged a male defendant more harshly than a female, and (c) for female non-sentencing evaluators, the male penalty effect was enhanced for the more attractive defendants. Overall, the results suggest that defendant gender, defendant appearance, evaluator gender, and evaluator profession can affect the outcome of a criminal trial.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2010. Vol. 17, no 2, 304-324 p.
Keyword [en]
appearance; crime victim injury; defendant; gender; photograph; prejudice;
National Category
Psychology
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-38657DOI: 10.1080/13218710903566896ISI: 000277755200009OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-38657DiVA: diva2:312270
Available from: 2010-04-23 Created: 2010-04-23 Last updated: 2011-11-22Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Justice needs a blindfold: Effects of defendants’ gender and attractiveness on judicial evaluation
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Justice needs a blindfold: Effects of defendants’ gender and attractiveness on judicial evaluation
2010 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

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).

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Psychology, Stockholm University, 2010. 64 p.
Keyword
stereotype, gender, appearance, attractiveness, emotionality, violence, vividness, eye witness, memory
National Category
Psychology (excluding Applied Psychology)
Research subject
Psychology
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-38639 (URN)978-91-7447-078-9 (ISBN)
Public defence
2010-05-21, David Magnussonsalen (U31), Frescati hagväg 8, Stockholm, 13:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Note
At the time of the doctoral defense, the following paper was unpublished and had a status as follows: Paper 3: Manuscript.Available from: 2010-04-28 Created: 2010-04-22 Last updated: 2011-05-25Bibliographically approved

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