We live in a society that emphasizes good looks - often excluding much more important factors. Attorneys and counselors know that the dress, hairstyle, make-up, etc. of the client's appearance can affect the perception of their truthfulness, honesty and credibility. Gestures, facial expressions and eye contact are also important. Recipients perceive as more truthful and sincere those interlocutors who better keep eye contact with them. People who are seen as sincere are those who look at the interlocutor about three times more often than people who are seen insincere. Also the rate of speech, the change in the voice tone and the pauses used have an impact on the effectiveness of persuasion. The credible message should be: fluent, fast but not too fast, devoid of hesitation, determined, with short pauses.
The presentation, which is the result of both verbal communication (what you say), and often even more non-verbal communication (how you look like, move, behave), is important in almost every situation. The courtroom is no exception.
Halo effect: when evil looks good
The results of the research show that there is a connection between the attractiveness of the accused and the verdict in the case. From a comprehensive analysis of 67 trials, it appears that the less atractive accused were facing more serious charges and received longer sentences. The accused's attractiveness had no significant influence on adjudicating his guilt or innocence, but had an impact on the punishment. This trend was also confirmed by research based on forensic simulations. The "prettier" accused was favoured by both male and female judges.
In the legal arena, the outcome of the case is often dependent on the character's sympathy and attractiveness. For the fact that a handsome man achieves a goal more easily, just like a beautiful woman, the so-called "halo effect" is responsible. But the halo effect is more than a stereotypical, visually pleasing picture. Sometimes good looking people are adorned with a halo of positive qualities that they do not really have.
The halo effect is a perceptual bias that involves identifying good looks with the good. People tend to view good-looking characters in a more positive light than those less attractive. With the halo effect we are confronted every day: this is because of our brain and its tendency to improve cognitive processes by shortening. Some of our associations, which are culturally conditioned and result from our experience or upbringing, easily emerge as soon as a certain stimulus arises.
Being attractive also brings very specific benefits. The halo effect means that people assume that physically attractive people have many positive qualities, ranging from credibility, intelligence and honesty. Although we have a natural tendency to attribute good qualities to good looking people, in reality these stereotypical beliefs are by no means authoritative.
Halo effect in the judicial context
Examples of test results:
Efran (1974) conducted research on the relationship between the attractiveness of the accused and the severity of the sentence imposed by the court. He stated that the examined judges were milder in condemning attractive accused than unattractive accused, even though they committed exactly the same crime. Efram assigned the result of the research to the social conviction that people with a high level of attractiveness are more likely to succeed in the future because they have socially desirable traits.
Monahan (1941) conducted a study of social workers, accustomed to contacts with various people. He stated that despite social experience, most of them had difficulties when they were asked to recognize a beautiful person guilty of a crime.
In a study conducted as part of the "Beautiful but Dangerous" project (1975), the researchers concluded that leniency towards a good-looking suspect was correlated with whether s/he had used his physical attractiveness to commit a crime. The study presents two hypothetical crimes: burglary and fraud. A woman who illegally obtained a key and stole 2,200 USD was supposed to have burgled. The fraud was to be committed by a woman who manipulated a man and extorted 2,200 USD from him to invest this money in a non-existent corporation. The results showed that when the offense was not related to attractiveness (in the case of burglary), the unattractive accused was punished more severely than the attractive one. However, when an attractive criminal used her attractive appearance to facilitate the commission of a crime (fraud), she was punished more severely than the unattractive one.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
A great example of the practical meaning of the halo effect is the character of Jeremy Meeks. This was a handsome criminal, whose image published on the facebook page of the Stockton Police Department, caused a flood of likes and comments within a few hours. Arrested for illegal possession of weapons and previously convicted, among others for the attack, Meeks has definitely changed the English-language definition of the "most wanted" criminal. Women rushed at him online, posting comments, offers and incentives - some very provocative. Interestingly, the fact that Meeks is a convicted criminal did not cause him to be executed in the eyes of women. On the contrary, many posts contained a playful desire to become a victim of crime if only Meeks wanted to be the culprit ...
Source: Facebook, Stockton Police Department
Did the attractive appearance help Meeks in his case?
Having quickly gained the status of a celebrity thanks to social media, just a few hours after gaining popularity on the Internet, Meeks gave a video interview for USA Today. The interview was conducted over the phone, from behind a glass partition. Meeks denied his involvement in the gangster lifestyle.
How many times have you seen a nondescript, average-looking suspect who, shortly after the arrest, were given the privilege of broadcasting a large-scale newspaper?
Meeks was convicted of the crime of possessing a firearm and theft. After his release from the Mendota Federal Correctional Institution in March 2016, he began his modeling career. His Facebook page has over 522,000 likes.
Jabłońska-Bońca J., Zeidler K., Prawnik a sztuka retoryki i negocjacji, Warszawa 2016.
Harold Sigall and Nancy Ostrove, “Beautiful but Dangerous: Effects of Offender Attractiveness and Nature of the Crime on Juridic Judgment,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 31, no. 3 (1975): 410-14.
Efran, M. G. (1974), "The Effect of Physical Appearance on the Judgment of Guilt, Interpersonal Attraction, and Severity of Recommended Punishment in Simulated Jury Task", Journal of Research in Personality, 8: 45–54, doi:10.1016/0092-6566(74)90044-0.
Monahan, F. (1941), Women in Crime, New York: Washburn.
Wendy L. Patrick, Esq., When a Mug Shot is a Glamor Shot The Curious Case of Jeremy Meeks, https://www.tjsl.edu/sites/default/files/files/Mug%20Shot%20Jeremy%20Meeks_PT.pdf