By Stephen L. Macknik
Illusory perception pervades every aspect of life, including, unfortunately, courts of law, where decisions are meant to be blind and unbiased. Studies of bias in legal decisions have begun to reveal the alarming inability of jurists to judge fairly when influenced by certain uncontrolled, extraneous conditions. For example, a study in 2011 showed that parole boards are less likely to grant clemency when making their judgments on an empty stomach.
One way to better understand legal bias would be to analyze how convicts’ appearance influences their sentencing, and a new study published in Psychological Science, by John Paul Wilson and Nicholas O. Rule of the University of Toronto, does just that. The researchers examined the sentencing of convicted murderers as a function of the trustworthiness of their faces. Specifically, they looked at whether or not the trustworthiness of each convict’s face could be used to predict whether the person was sentenced to either death or life-imprisonment.
It’s important to note that the facial appearance of trustworthiness is not a measure of actual trustworthiness, but scientists have shown that people tend to agree with one another in their assessment of individual faces. Therefore trustworthiness is a reliable and agreed upon feature of human facial processing, even if it’s not necessarily indicative of actual trustworthiness, and it’s a fair and important question as to whether criminal sentencing is affected by how defendants look.
Read the rest of the article by clicking the name of the source below.