Judging books by their cover: More on facial clues to character
Last fall we wrote about facial disfiguration and disgust. As the elections come ever closer, research on assessing character via facial cues is making itself known in the popular media. We all look and judge but we don’t often talk about how we make assumptions based on superficial realities.
Recently the Subliminal blog over at Psychology Today ran a post on research conducted on judging politician’s character by their faces. It’s worth going to the post to read about the research that’s been done and how we seem to choose the more ‘competent’ looking candidate.
So why does that happen? One of the studies cited involved a neuro-imaging process to ascertain whether we are most influenced by positive attributions or negative attributions when assessing someone’s face. The research article is tough to read (probably unless you’re a brain scientist) but the upshot is that we are more influenced by our own negative attributions than our positive attributions.
While this may not be surprising for anyone who watches jurors for a living, it’s a useful piece of information to have. You want to know what the negative reactions are jurors have even to witnesses they tend to like. Knowledge gives you the opportunity to fix those small (yet very irritating) issues or behaviors.
It reminds me of a case we had in the past year where several health care practitioners were important witnesses but one was a standout for the positive sense jurors had of her. Even as they described her caring, professionalism and sense of her integrity as they watched her deposition–they repeatedly returned to her hair. And they were annoyed.
The witness was growing out bangs that were very definitely at that “in-between stage” where they won’t stay out of your face. She was continually trying to tuck the bangs behind her ear but they just weren’t quite long enough. The typical comment was something like “I really liked her manner but that hair on her face really was annoying!”. The non-verbal behavior was completely irrelevant to what she was saying but very relevant to how jurors perceived her.
Other times, we have had mock jurors wonder if a witness had a cocaine problem or think the witness’ hair style is way too reminiscent of a certain well-known politician “but without a lot of confidence”.
Showing your mock jurors deposition excerpts is a terrific way to get a quick read on how your witnesses are going to be perceived. You want to know if the initial impression is irritation at hair issues, wondering about substance use or associations with a politician that may be helpful–or not– depending on the case and the juror.
Spezio ML, Rangel A, Alvarez RM, O’Doherty JP, Mattes K, Todorov A, Kim H, & Adolphs R (2008). A neural basis for the effect of candidate appearance on election outcomes. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 3 (4), 344-52 PMID: 19015087