Is Justice Really Blind?–The Influence of Litigant Physical Attractiveness on Juridical Judgment1


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    This article is a substantially revised version of a paper presented at the convention of the Speech Communication Association, New York, November 1973. As noted in a recent paper by Foss (1976), the juridical decision process involves (a) an individual judgment process and (b) a group discussion or decision-making process. In common with most recent research on judicial decision-making process, the study reported here focuses only on the former component.


The present investigation examined the influence of litigant physical attractiveness on the decisions of 91 undergraduates playing the role of nondeliberating jurors in an automobile negligence trial. Seeking to achieve a more realistic simulation of actual courtroom practice than that produced in prior studies, which have relied exclusively on short written synopses as their method of trial presentation, this experiment tested the hypothesis that physical attractiveness would have a significant impact on juridic judgments even though an audiovisual presentation of the trial permitted the introduction of a variety of other important stimuli typically present at a jury trial. This prediction received empirical support: Subjects exposed to an attractive plaintiff and an unattractive defendant more often found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded more money in damages than students viewing an unattractive plaintiff and an attractive defendant. However, in contrast to findings from general studies of interpersonal evaluation, analyses of student perceptions of the two litigants provided only limited evidence for a global (positive) physical attractiveness stereotype within the context of a simulated trial. Instead, the observed effect of physical attractiveness on student decisions was apparently mediated by differential perceptions of the seriousness of the accident itself. Possible implications of the results for the judicial process were mentioned.