Male jurors–especially slim ones–are more likely to find overweight female defendants guilty, a recent study by a group of Yale psychologists has found.
In the study, a group of 471 pretend peers of varying weight were shown photos of either an overweight man, an overweight woman, a thin man, or a thin woman. They were also presented with a summary of a case of check fraud and asked to assess the pretend defendant’s guilt on a five-point scale. The female “jurors” did not show a bias against overweight women, and neither male nor female participants showed a bias against overweight men. Male participants, however, were more likely to convict fat women.
Additionally, the study found, thinner male participants frequently labeled the overweight women as “repeat offenders” with “awareness of their crimes.” Why? An article about the study at Slate points out that women’s weight may be associated with their ability to control impulse: if a woman impulsively reaches into the cookie jar, she might also impulsively write a bad check. Another reason, said Dr. Natasha Schvey, one of the authors of the study, is that fat women are perceived as being poorer.
These findings, especially when coupled with another study which found that attractive defendants are less likely to be found guilty, speak volumes about the impact of appearance on juror decision-making.