Weight Bias Drives Perceptions of Guilt in Court

A new study, published in International Journal of Obesity, suggests weight bias can play a role in trial outcomes. In the study, conducted by researchers at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, 471 people with normal or excess weight read a vignette concerning check fraud and were shown one of four pictures of a defendant — one woman of normal weight, one man of normal weight, one woman with excess weight, and one man with excess weight. Participants were asked to rate the defendant’s potential guilt on a 1-5 scale.

Male jurors more often found the woman with excess weight guilty than the male defendant with normal weight, the female defendant with normal weight, or the male defendant with excess weight, suggesting women with excess weight get penalized far more by weight bias than men with extra weight. In addition, there was little difference in rating the guilt of the female defendant between male jurors with normal weight and those with excess weight, suggesting males with excess weight are no less likely to refrain from weight bias or to be more empathetic when it comes to women with excess weight. Women jurors, on the other hand, displayed no bias when it came to defendants with excess weight.

Rebecca Puhl, co-author of the study, says, “Thinness has come to symbolize important values in our society, values such as discipline, hard work, ambition, and willpower. If you’re not thin, then you don’t have them.” People have no qualms aiming overt cruelty at people with obesity, Puhl said, because it’s the last acceptable prejudice.

Click here too read more ABC News and here to access the IJO study publication.

Justice by Giorgio Vasari / Wikimedia

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