Abstract

Though it is intended to be collectively fair, the criminal justice system does not always meet this standard. Numerous social factors influence perception and consequential judgment of alleged criminals. Ninety-five Mount Holyoke women volunteered and were shown one of four pictures (attractive or unattractive male, or attractive or unattractive female) along with the story of an allegedly committed crime. Participant's scores on a 7-item questionnaire were averaged to yield mean judgment scores, with higher scores representing harsher judgments. A 2(gender: male or female)x2(appearance: attractive or unattractive) factorial ANOVA test indicated that there was a main effect for attractiveness, but no main effect for gender, and no interaction effect between the two independent variables. The most likely contributing factor to our limited results is the fact that notions of attractiveness differ greatly from individual to individual. Other possible problems include subjects not paying attention to the pictures at all, or thinking that the questionnaire was going to be a test, in which case they focused on trying to memorize the information from the story instead of associating it with the picture.

Hypotheses

The experimenters believe that the outcomes of this study will reveal two important findings. First, that attractive people, regardless of sex, will be judged more leniently than unattractive people for certain nonviolent crimes. Additionally, it is possible that women, regardless of attractiveness, will be judged more leniently than men will for certain nonviolent crimes. Often perceived as mothers, wives, and caretakers, we believe women may hold ‘insurance’ against extreme or harsh judgments. According to the logic we have presented here, we believe that the possibility of an interaction effect also exists. We believe that attractive female criminals will be the most likely candidates for lenient judgment. Unattractive men, then, will be the most likely candidates for harsh judgment.

Method

Participants

A total of 95 undergraduate women from Mount Holyoke College were used as participants in the study. Many of our subjects took part in the study in return for research credits awarded in introductory level or other psychology classes. The approximate age range of the participants was 17-24 years.

Materials

The following materials were used: four photographs, an invented crime report, and a questionnaire. The photographs consisted of two males and two females, each male being either unattractive or attractive, and the same for the females. Each male and female picture was the same person with a different appearance, with their appearance being used as the attractive or unattractive variable. The pictures were inserted into the story as they would appear in a newspaper.

Pictures in which the criminal was disheveled were considered unattractive. Disheveled appearance was defined as sloppy hair for both sexes as well as no makeup for the women. Attractive pictures for both sexes included neat hairstyles, for women it included makeup, and for men it included a clean-shave.

The fabricated crime report detailed a larceny incident with an employee of a tire company as the prime suspect. The report included the criminal’s name, employer, and amount of money reported stolen. The name of the accused changed according to the inserted male or female photograph.

The questionnaire contained 10 items. The questions were to be answered on a 6-point scale (6/strongly agree and 1/strongly disagree). The questions asked were used to determine how harshly the participant judged the accused. Participants received a debriefing sheet immediately after returning the questionnaire to the experimenters.

Procedure

Subjects were randomly assigned to four groups: attractive male, unattractive male, attractive female, and unattractive female. Subjects were tested individually in the Psychology building or in the dorm. Each subject was asked to read an account of a crime (with picture), and when finished was asked to answer a ten-item questionnaire. A time limit of 10 minutes was allowed to complete the reading and the questionnaire. Subjects received both verbal and written debriefing statements immediately.

Questionnaires were scored on the basis of the overall severity of judgment rating. Overall judgment means for each participant were calculated by adding the total score from a participant’s questionnaire and dividing by the number of questions (7). These means were used to perform a 2x2 between subjects factorial ANOVA.

Results

An independent groups ANOVA was used to determine if attractiveness (attractive or unattractive) and the gender (male or female) of the alleged criminal had a significant effect on the mean judgment score. There was a significant main effect for attractiveness where attractive people (M=3.66) were judged more harshly than unattractive people (M=3.29), F(1,94)=6.182, Mse=3.120, p<.05. No main effect was found for gender. Males (M=3.51) and females (M=3.4380) were not judged differently, F(1,94)=.245, Mse=.123, p>05. There was no significant interaction between attractiveness and gender, F(1,94)=.012, Mse=.005, p>.05.


 

Discussion

According to our results attractive criminals were judged more harshly than unattractive criminals. These results do not support our hypothesis or the previous research suggesting that attractive criminals are sentenced more leniently than unattractive criminals. There was no significant effect for gender on the judgement of male or female criminals. The most likely contributing factor to our limited results is the fact that notions of attractiveness differ greatly from individual to individual. Other possible problems include subjects not paying attention to the pictures at all, or thinking that the questionnaire was going to be a test, in which case they focused on trying to memorize the information from the story instead of associating it with the picture. In future studies of this kind beneficial changes would include using photographs of real individuals, having a separate group of subjects rate the pictures on attractiveness, instructing subjects to read the story and look at the photograph, and explaining to them that the experiment was not a test of memorization.