The influence of a defendant's body weight on perceptions of guilt

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Abstract

OBJECTIVE:

To investigate the influence of a defendant's weight on simulated jurors' perceptions of guilt.

DESIGN AND METHODS:

Participants were 471 lean and overweight adults (mean body mass index: 25.34 ± 5.91) who read a vignette describing a case of check fraud while viewing one of four images of the alleged defendant (a lean male, a lean female, an obese male or an obese female). Participants rated the defendant's culpability on a 5-point Likert scale and completed measures of anti-fat attitudes.

RESULTS:

Male respondents endorsed greater overall weight bias than females (F (1470) = 23.815, P<0.01, η2 = 0.048). A three-way interaction was detected between participant sex, defendant sex and defendant weight on perceptions of guilt such that when the defendant was female, male participants were significantly more likely to find her guilty if she was obese than if she was lean (guilt ratings = 4.05 ± 0.83; 3.31 ±1.03, respectively; F(1467) = 5.935, P = 0.015, R2 = 0.060). In addition, 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 (t(90) = 2.081, P = 0.040; t(90) = 2.395 P = 0.019, respectively). There were no differences in perceptions of guilt or responsibility between the obese male and the lean male defendants.

CONCLUSION:

The results of this novel study indicate that both weight and gender of a defendant may affect juror perceptions of guilt and responsibility.

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