Deliberations is on vacation. This post first ran in March 2007.
Yesterday we faced the ugly truth that jurors, because they're human, like attractive people better than plain people. Today's post talks about some of the subtleties and complications of that truth, and about how we might deal with it in the courtroom. Subtleties first:
1. It's more complicated with women. Especially when researchers are studying perceived competence (as in the Social Psychology Quarterly and Hamermesh/Parker teacher research discussed yesterday), the Marilyn Monroe pretty-but-dumb thing is real. Both attractive men and attractive women are perceived as more competent, but men get a bigger boost from their looks than women do. Likewise in Rice University research in 2002, attractive men were uniformly rated more suitable for hiring, but "female raters . . . were less likely to hire attractive women for jobs that were viewed as more male-oriented."
2. When expectations aren't met, beware. In the 2006 Rice University research I mentioned yesterday, researchers studied the perceived trustworthiness of attractive and less attractive people. "Sender" volunteers sent money to "recipients," knowing the recipients would decide how much money to send back. All either side had to go on was a picture of the other party. The senders sent more money to the attractive recipients -- that is, they trusted them more -- but there was a catch. Like the senders, the recipients expected attractive people to be more trustworthy and thus to share fairly. Attractive senders who failed to meet that expectation were punished more harshly -- they got less money back -- than the cheap but homely senders.
This makes sense for the courtroom as well. Jurors are likely to remember and despise the grandly senatorial witness who disappoints, just as they are likely to remember with respect the Columbo look-alike who surprised them with his insight.
3. The rules apply to everybody. This isn't just about how jurors perceive witnesses and defendants. A trial is a visual event, and everybody in the courtroom looks like something. Think about:
- The lawyers. Attractive lawyers make more money than plain ones, Hamermesh and Biddle have found, and you can safely presume that they're perceived as more competent. Moreover, when lawyers are the ones doing the perceiving, they prefer conventional attractiveness as much as anybody else does. In a Missouri case released last week where the state had struck black jurors from the panel, the state's proposed nonracial justification for one of the strikes was the juror's looks, and specifically her hair -- her "fluorescent," "like Ronald McDonald's" and "clown red" hair, the local paper reported. (The conviction was reversed, but I'm guessing that many more weird-hair strikes go without appellate review.)
- The jurors. This very morning brought this personal ad on Craig's List:
Cute Guy at Jury Duty This Morning - w4m - 39 Good looking guy, sitting two rows in front of me, wearing jeans, and a cotton button down, long sleeve shirt. We were on the Jay Street window side. You were getting up and walking around, and we had eye contact and few times. When I got up to take a phone call, and had to go the Jury lounge, you were called, cause when I got back, you were gone. Spent the rest of day in that room and you didn't come back.
Let's say he had come back, and these two ended up on the same jury. Jury deliberations are a group process, and if some in the group are cute, it's a factor -- not that we can tell which way it cuts. The Pew Research Center summarized 2006 Arizona State research as finding that "men performed better on tests of creativity after viewing photos of attractive women, imagining short-term liaisons or long-term relationships." On the other hand, McMaster University researchers found in 2003 that when male students were shown pictures of pretty women, they made irrational financial decisions. "Women, by contrast," the article reporting this recounts, "made equally rational decisions whether they had been shown pictures of handsome men or those of average attractiveness." Hey, I just report the news.
What to do about it
I promised some actual advice on this topic. Here it is.
1. Get over it. It's not fair that pretty people make a better impression, we know that, but this is no time to change the world. You are responsible for a client's property, or liberty, or life. Think about connecting with this jury, and you can head to the barricades when you're done.
2. Don't flout it. It's a corollary, but perhaps worth noting separately. We all know people who look far less attractive than they could because they think it doesn't matter, or they think it shouldn't matter. A courtroom isn't a very good place to test these theories.
3. Remember "more than skin deep." For the first half of the movie 10, Bo Derek was absolutely gorgeous. Then her character spoke, and for the rest of the movie she looked almost ordinary. In all these research studies, subjects saw pictures only -- not expressions, posture, kindness, or insight. If you have a witness you think may be stereotyped because of the way he looks, there are ways to let the jury see the beauty of his character.
4. Put it in perspective. Beauty isn't everything. If it were, John Kerry and John Edwards would be president and vice president of the United States. What these research studies suggest that attractiveness is important when all other things are equal.
All other things are not equal. There is race, and pretrial publicity, and the quality of your presentation, and the experience of your jurors, and the complexity of your facts, and the community you live in, and the luck of the draw -- and then there is the strength of your case, by far the most important factor in the jury's decision. "[B]iasing factors (e.g., pretrial publicity) have been found to have little to no impact when [strength of evidence] is weak or very strong," conclude the authors of the comprehensive literature review Jury Decision Making: 45 Years of Empirical Research on Deliberating Groups, 7 Psychology, Law, & Public Policy 622 (2000). There's a beauty in that.
- Eric Turkewitz demonstrates one way to work with attractive opposing witnesses, using the disappointed expectations principle, at New York Personal Injury Law Blog today. "The answer is not to knock them down, but to build them up," he advises, so that you create expectations the witness cannot meet.
- Bill Tyroler points out, in the comments here, that there were serious discussions of legal challenges to "lookism" recently, after a DePauw University sorority purged its nonbeautiful members. "How would a challenge to 'lookism' work in the courtroom?" he asks. "Yikes."
(Image by John Goodridge at http://flickr.com/photos/badjonni/434871340/; license details there.)