Swedish Study Uncovers Significant Biases in Courtroom Decisions

Understanding the psychology that surrounds the justice system is an important component of modern inquiries into the integrity and efficacy of existing programs, and the idea that basic psychological biases play into courtroom decisions is one that make make related professionals uncomfortable. Nevertheless, a study performed at Stockholm University has recently found that gender difference, along with physical appearance, can have a significant impact on the outcome of court cases. The study was conducted with a group of psychology students who participated in a series of mock trials.

During the course of the study, the trials were examined as to the reactions and decisions of judges, lawyers, lay assessors, police officers, and eye witnesses to the cases of men and women. Judges in particular showed an interesting bias wherein they were more likely to view members of their own sex more harshly than those of the opposite sex. While this trait did not cross over to effect lawyers and other courtroom players, these other players did show a more suspicious view of male perpetrators than of female perpetrators. Further, the physical appearance of defendants was shown to have an effect on the players’ assessments. Eye witnesses were harsher in their judgments when questioned at greater intervals after the time of the supposed crime, as well.

Though the idea that the justice system may have specific flaws concerning the potential for bias may be difficult to accept for those who work towards making the process as fair as possible, the study uncovers the fact that certain aspects of a defendant’s profile are likely to influence their verdict and sentencing, and issue that merits further study and examination. Through applying the findings of the study and accounting for popular psychological bias, court systems worldwide may be able to improve the quality of their work.

© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • alex T

    alex T

    May 27th, 2010 at 4:27 AM

    okay,there may be biases but these cannot really be said to be a mistake or crime on part of the people having the biases.it is natural…we’re not robots and do tend to have certain biases…can’t quite help it,can we?!

  • Jon

    Jon

    May 27th, 2010 at 4:43 AM

    What happened to getting an impartial jury trial? Sounds like that is not a possibility given the biases that some people naturally have toward others, based unfairly upon race, religion, or appearance. Sad that these are still issues that we are facing today, and makes you kinda scared about what would ever happen to you if you had to go on trial. Would your appearance be clean cut enough or enough of what the jury is looking for to render a fair verdict? makes you think.

  • H.gibbs

    H.gibbs

    May 27th, 2010 at 10:25 AM

    Jon is right here…whatever prejudices we have in our minds should be left behind and we should not let them come in the way of our work. Just like when we have a personal problem and our productivity starts to decline, our boss always tells us not to mix our personal life with the professional one,doesn’t he? Its just like that… to have your prejudices interfere in your work is not only unprofessional but unethical as well.

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