Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I find you... Sexy!

The compliance technique I chose to research was the one I found most intriguing as well as the most disturbing. That is our weakness to comply with those we find attractive.

Now I’m sure we’d all admit that if Tom Hiddleston walked up to us in a club and asked us to lend him a tenner (use your imagination here) we’d be pretty unlikely to turn him down. Now imagine you’re on a jury and Tom Hiddleston turns up in the court (presumably he’s finally being held accountable for being too darn sexy and cute) how do you think this would affect your decision? Luckily some clever researchers back in the 70’s have the answer. 

Aim
To try and determine if physical attractiveness has an impact on the length of sentence given to a criminal defendant.

Method
A total of 74 defendants were observed whilst on trial in a criminal court, in the general area of Pennsylvania. Of these 70 were men and 4 were women. The defendants ranges in age between 22-25 years. The length of their trials ranged anywhere between two weeks to two years.
In order to assess attractiveness 10 independent observers were sent to view the court proceedings. They watched the defendant for thirty minutes and then filled out a bipolar rating scale on nine different aspects of the defendant’s traits (including appearance). The observers were blind to the aims of the study. Sentencing data was obtained from the official sentencing documents from the County Clerk’s office.

Results
A correlational analysis revealed that defendants rated as more attractive received significantly lower sentences compared to less attractive defendants. This was true in both (what the authors termed) minimal and maximal crimes (e.g. petty theft compared to murder). This is perhaps the scariest finding as this means that even when controlling for seriousness of crime the attractiveness bias was still present! The final notable finding (which is presented in the figure below) is that significantly fewer attractive defendants ended up in prison compared to those who were unattractive.


So moral of the story is if you’re every called up to a jury consider taking a blind fold, or failing that give the sexy burglar a lighter sentence and take him out to dinner. 

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