"Lookism" is a crime most foul in a perfect world devised by radical feminists, though most women will usually overlook the crime when a good-looking man gives them a respectful once-over. But researchers in England, source of our common law, have identified a real crime: Jurors are more likely to convict "ugly" defendants than "attractive" defendants.
The investigators are from Bath Spa University in Bath, the lovely Somerset resort where Beau Nash set down rules of polite society and where Chaucer set his morality tale of a witch who gave an errant knight his choice of a wife "foul and faithful" or one "fair and faithless." (He cleverly asked her to choose for him, and won a faithful beauty.)
The Bath researchers asked 96 volunteers to read a transcript of a fictitious mugging case, look at a photograph of the defendant, and render a verdict. All the mock jurors got the same transcript, but half got a photograph of an "ugly" defendant and half a photograph of an "attractive" defendant. Jurors who voted "guilty" were asked to pass sentence. More jurors voted to acquit the attractive defendant than the ugly one, and even when guilty, the attractive defendant got a lighter sentence.
"Our findings confirm previous research on the effects of defendant characteristics, such as physical attractiveness," says Dr. Sandie Taylor, the psychologist who conducted the study. "Attractive defendants are rated less harshly than homely defendants." Any judge, lawyer, court reporter or courthouse hanger-on would tell you that good looks count for more than good character witnesses, which is why lawyers insist that a client on trial for murder get a close shave, a fresh haircut and a new suit for his day in court.
"People who are physically attractive are assumed to be clever, successful and have more friends," says Prof. Taylor. "It's tragic, in a way." Especially if you're innocent and ugly. The principle applies even to the law-abiding. Beauty, as the London Daily Telegraph observed in its account of the Bath research, "is associated with kindness, intelligence and sporting ability."
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