THE UPSIDE AND DOWNSIDE OF BEAUTY
October 6th, 2011
Here at Tsongas we often get asked questions regarding appearance. One of the subjects that has come up recently involves beauty and specifically what effect it has regarding witness evaluation by the fact finder. To get to this answer we should first lay out a few assumptions.
The first assumption is that while individual preferences certainly exist, overall, there is “broad agreement as to what constitutes beauty.” This is disappointing to many people who will often reply with the maxim, “but, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Our response, “most certainly, but most people’s eyes aren’t that different.” Seeing the look of disappointed resignation on their face we say, “Sorry, I’d like it to be different too.”
Secondly, studies in the past have shown that physically attractive people tend to be more confident, have better oral communication and social skills, and earn more money. Because of these two assumptions one might presume that attractive witnesses perform better on the stand in the eyes of the trier of fact. Of course, it depends. A 1975 University of Maryland study found this to be true, unless the witness used their physical attractiveness to get an advantage that is somehow related to the lawsuit. In this situation the witnesses attractiveness had a boomerang effect, hurting the witness in the eyes of jurors.
The most recent research in this regard was released in just August in the Society for Personality and Social Psychology journal. The study focused on individuals examining photos of potential co-workers. In this study the results were cross-gender determinant. Women evaluated attractive males highly. However, they also evaluated attractive females more poorly than unattractive women with the same qualifications. Males exhibited similar behavior when evaluating attractive and unattractive men. Attractive men were evaluated more poorly even with the same qualifications as the attractive men. Participants in the study with lower self-esteem tended to show magnified effects of this phenomenon.
Beauty matters for sure. However, an important reminder is that credibility of a witness should be the primary concern of any attorney. There are very few situations where witness attractiveness will trump overall witness credibility.