Middle-aged female defendants who wear makeup during their trial get a courtroom advantage, according to the latest study led by a Franklin & Marshall College researcher.
The study is the first to examine the effects of cosmetics on jury verdicts and sentences. Given that makeup increases attractiveness, an advantage for defendants, but also increases apparent age in young faces, a disadvantage, the researchers wanted to determine what the overall effect of cosmetics would have on jury decisions.
Conducted by F&M Assistant Professor of Psychology Carlota Batres and Psychology Professor Richard Russell at Gettysburg College, the study found that regardless of makeup application, male and female participants were more likely to assign guilty verdicts to middle-aged female defendants than young female defendants.
Batres, who led the research and runs the Preferences Lab at F&M, said, “It could be that older defendants may be attributed with more agency/responsibility over their actions and are thus more likely to be seen as guilty.”
The psychologists also found that male participants gave young female defendants in makeup longer sentences while middle-aged female defendants in makeup received shorter sentences, when compared to the same faces without makeup.
“Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that apparent age has a stronger effect on jury decisions than attractiveness,” Batres said.
Take the 1992 case of Amy Fisher, a Long Island teenager who shot the wife of her alleged lover. During her nationally publicized trial, experts following the case called her appearance – dark suit and makeup – the wrong presentation for the jury.
“I would have put her in a French schoolgirl dress with a big collar, a dark color, ribbon in her hair, no makeup. Make her look as young and innocent as possible,” Harry Munsinger, an attorney and trial consultant, told the Los Angeles Times.
Batres said that Munsinger may have been on to something since at the time of her trial, Amy Fisher was 18 years old and, according to this new research, wearing cosmetics could have made her look more guilty. While attorneys and consultants often advise their female clients what makeup to wear for trial, this is the first research that shows scientific evidence of the effects of cosmetics on jury decisions, Batres said.
The journal, Cosmetics, published “Examining the Influence of Cosmetics on Jury Decisions” this week.