A study just published by psychologists at Yale University finds that male jurors are more likely to find female defendants with a high body-mass index (BMI) guilty. According to the study’s authors,

lean male participants were significantly more likely to believe that the obese female defendant met criteria for check fraud, and indicated greater belief she would be a repeat offender, compared with the lean female defendant.


Of course, general weight-based perceptions were controlled for, showing no change in perception of guilt when the defendant was obese and male. Katy Waldman of Slate.com spoke with one of the study’s authors and provides some of her own speculations on cause of bias.

Clearly this should become a consideration for for attorneys focusing on criminal law. It’s unclear from the article whether this bias is likely to apply in non-criminal matters, but regardless of the moral implications, this finding shows a real factor attorneys should take into account when evaluating cases in modern America.

(photo: Shutterstock: 92423773)

2 Comments

  1. Law Talkin' Guy says:

    If the study authors really wanted to control for the effects of class bias, they should have tried with a variety of crimes, both blue- and white-collar. It may also be interesting to have obesity statistics by “class” (perhaps as measured by % of poverty) explicitly compared to the subjects’ perceptions of the issue; is BMI being used as a stand-in for class, or were all the “obese” women dressed differently than the others? There’s always so little information presented about these psychological studies that I can’t really trust the media to do more than bring the topic up.

  2. zeromein says:

    Our perception is that over-weight women lack self control and as such are more likely to have committed the crime. Another dynamic is that women, who take care of their appearance are actually better at presenting things, including themselves. So, it may not all tie back to bias.

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