This month a team of Yale psychologists released a study indicating that male jurors—but not female jurors—were more likely to hand a guilty verdict to obese women than to slender women. The researchers corralled a group of 471 pretend peers of varying body sizes and described to them a case of check fraud. They also presented them with one of four images—either a large guy, a lean guy, a large woman, or a lean woman—and identified the person in the photograph as the defendant. Participants rated the pretend-defendant’s guilt on a five-point scale. No fat bias emerged when the female pretend peers evaluated the female pretend defendants or when either men or women assessed the guilt of the men. But when the male pretend peers pronounced judgment on the female pretend defendants, BMI prejudice reared up. . . .
The study offers further depressing insights. Not only did the male pretend jurors prove “significantly more likely” to find the obese female defendants—rather than the slim ones—guilty, but the trim male participants were worst of all, frequently labeling the fat women “repeat offenders” with “awareness” of their crimes. And because the effect disappeared when the photographs depicted a man, the hypothesis that subjects were simply layering class-based assumptions—such as “poor people are more often overweight” and “poor people commit more crime”—on top of one another falls a bit short. (On the other hand, as one of the researchers, Dr. Natasha Schvey, explained to me over the phone, fat women are more likely to be perceived as coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds than fat men. Somehow I don’t find that consoling.)
“What’s going on?” I asked her. Schvey suggested that stereotypes about obese people paint them as greedy, selfish, and thus prone to defrauding checks.
Read the rest of the article, including the author’s alternative theories here.
Related Situationist posts:
- The Situation of Body Image
- Hey Dove! Talk to YOUR parent!
- Shades of Fairness and the Marketing of Prejudice
- Prejudice Against the Obese and Some of its Situational Sources
- Fitting in and Sizing up
- Jury Selection
- The Implicit Situation of Criminal Justice
- The Situation of Gender in the Workplace
- Implicit Bias in the Courtroom
- Implicit Bias Symposium (with links to videos)
- Nancy Gertner on the Situation of Feminism
- Judge Nancy Gertner on her Situation
- The Gendered Situation of Recommendation Letters
- The Double-Binded Situation of Even Women Lawyers
- Examining the Gendered Situation of Harvard Business School
- A Rose by any other Name Might Become a Judge
Image from Flickr (by Eric Molinsky).