The subjects for this experiment were chosen from seven undergraduate beginning Speech Communication classes at The University of New Mexico. These subjects were asked to look at either an attractive, neither-attractive-nor-unattractive, or unattractive person who was posing as a defendant in a negligent homicide case, and sentence that defendant to from one to twenty-five years in prison for the crime.
A 3x2 factorial design was constructed, testing two variables -- level of physical attractiveness (attractive, neither attractive- nor-unattractive, unattractive), and mode of presentation of the defendant (photograph, in person). Different effects of these two variables were measured by comparing the number of years in prison to which subjects sentenced the defendants. The length of prison term -- the dependent variable -- was analyzed by means of a factorial analysis of variance.
Two hypotheses and one research question were posited: (1) The mean number of years to which an unattractive defendant is sentenced is significantly greater than the mean number of years to which a neither-attractive-nor-unattractive defendant is sentenced, which is significantly greater than the mean number of years to which an attractive defendant is sentenced. (Supported in part.) (2) The mean number of years to which a defendant seen by photograph is sentenced is significantly greater than the mean number of years to which a defendant seen in person is sentenced. (Unsupported.) (3) The research question asked was, "Is there any significant interaction among the manipulated variables -- mode of presentation and physical attractiveness?" (Answered negatively.)
The first and second parts of Hypothesis One were not supported; however, the third portion of the hypothesis was. The explanation tentatively offered was that people apparently fail to differentiate between levels of attractiveness that are not extremely different -- neither-attractive-nor-unattractive and unattractive, or neither-attractive-nor-unattractive and attractive. However, people apparently do perceive and behave differently to persons of extremely different levels of attractiveness -- unattractive and attractive. The second research hypothesis was not supported. The explanation is offered that information about the stimulus person appeared to reduce the differential effects of mode of presentation.
There was no significant interaction among the variables, in response to the research question.
The results and the interpretations of the results indicated that further research is needed to determine the levels of attractiveness of defendants in real courtroom situations, and the reactions of jurors to these defendants. Research is also needed to discover the amount and kinds of information that can reduce the effects of physical attractiveness in the courtroom situation. If these variables are examined, then it may demonstrate the utility of information and communication in reducing the effects of prejudicial judgments in interpersonal encounters.
Level of Degree
Department of Communication and Journalism
First Committee Member (Chair)
Second Committee Member
Lawrence B. Rosenfeld
Third Committee Member
Fourth Committee Member
Ashley, Dennis Alan. "An Experimental Study of the Effects of Physical Attractiveness of Defendants in a Simulated Jury Setting." (1976). https://digitalrepository.unm.edu/cj_etds/119