Juries Give Good-Looking People Lighter Sentences

It should come as no surprise that jurors are bias in favor of the good-looking, convicting them less often and giving them shorter sentences; we’ve known about what’s called the “unattractive harshness effect” for some time now. A couple of researchers from Cornell University decided to look into why this happens.
There are two types of jurors, the researchers say, those who process information emotionally (allowing factors like appearance, race, and gender to come into play) and those who process information rationally based on facts and logic. As Justin Gunnell, who led the study, explains in a write-up:

Our hypothesis going in was that jurors inclined to process information in a more emotional/intuitive manner would be more prone to make reasoning errors when rendering verdicts and recommending sentences as opposed to rational processors. The results bore out our hypothesis on all measures.

Gunnell says we all probably use both systems to some degree, but one predominates depending on context and our natural preferences. The style jurors use to make decisions, he found, matters less when the evidence is strong or the crime is serious (the two types convicted good-looking defendants at similar rates) than when the evidence is more ambiguous or the charge is relatively minor. “Unattractive” defendants were found guilty 22 percent more often than good-looking defendants were, and they spent, on average, 22 more months in prison.

Category: Findings


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  1. […] is important to note that our research is one of the first studies to merge personality psychology with juror bias research. As such, we […]

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