Innocent Until Proven Pretty

Photo by Jodi Cobb

In a groundbreaking study from 1972, researchers found that people tend to believe that “what is beautiful is good.” That study demonstrated that attractive people were viewed by others as better parents, better spouses, more successful employees, and happier people overall than their less attractive counterparts. However, recent research from the University of Grenada suggests that a woman’s beauty may work against her in the court room, particularly if she pleads self defense in the murder of an abusive partner.  “One of the most interesting conclusions of the study was that when the woman accused of killing her abuser was attractive, participants attached greater culpability, whereas if considered ‘unattractive,’ this decreases,” explain the researchers.

Another factor that influenced the perceptions of guilt held by the study’s mock jurors was how closely the women involved fit a stereotype of an abused woman. If a woman was financially dependent on her partner and appeared to be young and frail, she was considered to have less control over the situation and thus be less culpable for her actions. Meanwhile, women who did not match this stereotype–those who were older, had a career, dressed well, and seemed calm and confident interacting in the court room–were more likely to be thought of as guilty.

This research was published in The European Journal of Psychology Applied to Legal Context.

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Human Journey

Meet the Author
Since 2005, Michael has been a librarian at National Geographic.