Can being attractive get you out of jail time?

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By Janie-Lea Jarvis (School of Psychology)

Supervised by Dr Robin Kramer 

Brief Overview

Appearance bias affects many aspects of our lives; whom we date and what jobs we get. It may also affect whether you are found guilty or not in court. Research has found that participants assign attractive defendants shorter prison sentences and are less likely to vote attractive defendants as guilty than their unattractive counterparts. We wanted to investigate the effect of attractiveness on guilt using courtroom videos and real crime descriptions – which have not been used in previous research

The videos were five seconds long and were taken from YouTube videos of court cases. Crime descriptions were taken from police news pages. There were 60 descriptions in total, split equally across three categories: murder/assault, sexual assault/rape, and robbery/burglary. Participants were either asked to rate the attractiveness or guilt of the person in the videos. In the guilt condition, they were given the crime description and asked to rate the guilt of the person based on the crime.

Challenges and how I dealt with them

One difficulty I faced was stimuli collection. I had not completed this section of the research process before. Identifying the stimuli was challenging as we had to ensure they were realistic, and we had enough of them in a similar format. I dealt with this by communicating with my supervisor for his opinions on the resources found and trying different search methods to find a variety of resources.

I struggled with time management throughout this project. This project was completed during the summer, so I still wanted to have a break and spend time with my family and friends. This meant, at times, our progress was slower than we would have liked (especially during stimuli and data collection).  However, it meant that I had to be stricter with myself and more realistic about what I didn’t have time for.

Working collaboratively with my supervisor

Working with a supervisor to create a piece of research from start to finish was an experience I had not had yet within my degree. It made me realise how much work goes into each piece of research and how long they take to create. I feel proud of the research we created, and it was a good experience to work alongside my supervisor on this project. I especially enjoyed the design process – deciding what we were going to study and how we were going to do it.

Lessons learnt and how the experience has prepared me for my future (i.e., further study or employment)

Managing my time better and self-discipline was definitely a learning curve, but they have been good skills to practise. Completing all parts of the research process has taught me which sections I am hesitant about and given me a chance to work on them.  I now feel more confident in my research abilities and am excited to put them to use for my dissertation and post-graduate research.

*To view the research poster for this project, please click on the thumbnail below: