Closing With Emotion: The Differential Impact of Male Versus Female Attorneys Expressing Anger in Court

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Abstract

Emotion expression is a key part of trial advocacy. Attorneys are advised to gain credibility with juries by demonstrating conviction through anger expression. In 3 experiments, we tested whether expressing anger in court makes attorneys more effective and whether this depends on their gender. We randomly assigned participants (n = 120 undergraduates) to view a male or female attorney presenting the same closing argument in either a neutral or angry tone (Experiment 1). They reported their impressions of the attorney and how likely they would be to hire the attorney. People used the positive aspects of anger (e.g., conviction, power), to justify hiring an angry male attorney. Yet, they used the negative aspects of anger (e.g., shrill, obnoxious), to justify not hiring a female attorney. We replicated this effect in Experiment 2 with a community sample (n = 294). Experiment 3 (n = 273) demonstrated that the attorney anger by gender interaction generalized to perceptions of effectiveness across a set of additional attorney targets. Finally, a high-powered analysis collapsing across experiments confirmed that when expressing anger relative to when calm, female attorneys were seen as significantly less effective, while angry male attorneys were seen as significantly more effective. Women might not be able to harness the persuasive power of expressing anger in the courtroom, which might prevent female attorneys from advancing in their careers.

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