No matter how much we want to believe otherwise, justice is not blind to biases.
Jurors often allow their own experiences and prejudices to creep into their thought process when rendering a verdict about someone's guilt or innocence. It does not necessarily mean you ignore the facts and say a person is innocent because she reminds you of your dear, sweet grandmother, or is guilty because he reminds you of a guy who made your life at work miserable last year.
Most of us can put those prejudices aside and let the facts drive our decisions about people, especially at a court setting. Some cannot, though. History is filled with examples, and Hollywood has cashed in on that thought.
A Twitter follower forwarded alarming information to me last week. It involved a recent study by a group of Yale psychologists that concluded male jurors are more likely to find an obese woman guilty than they would a thin woman. A man, whether obese or thin, would tend to fair better in a courtroom, based on the research.
The study presumably involved 471 people who played the role of jurors in a fictitious case dealing with check fraud. The pretend jurors were shown four photos and told they were of the defendant. The photos were of a large man, thin man, large woman and thin woman. The facts of the case were not alerted.
Those participating in the study were asked to rate each defendant's guilt based on a five-point scale. Apparently, bias showed its ugly head when men were rating the larger female defendant. The study concluded the larger woman was "significantly more likely" to be found guilty by the men.
Assuming the study was factually reported, there are some painful and sobering conclusions to be debated. There are probably dozens of reasons — or perhaps excuses is a better word — to explain why men would have such a bias. First, it shows a lot of men are pretty shallow in their thinking. That, of course, is not shocking news.
Truthfully, men and women alike have prejudices that taint their thinking of others. People have their negative perceptions of people based on size, race, gender, a disability, the way they talk, the car they drive, the church they attend, the way they dress, the environment in which they were raised, their job or countless other factors.
I'm pretty sure we all would like to be judged based on who we are, not someone's perception of us, especially when that perception is a product of uneducated bias.
The Yale study certainly revealed flaws in our judicial system, while reinforcing flaws in our society.
Mike Goens can be reached at 256-740-5740 or mike.goens@TimesDaily.com.