When emotionality trumps reason: a study of individual processing style and juror bias

Behav Sci Law. Nov-Dec 2010;28(6):850-77. doi: 10.1002/bsl.939. Epub 2010 Jun 25.


"Cognitive Experiential Self Theory" (CEST) postulates that information-processing proceeds through two pathways, a rational one and an experiential one. The former is characterized by an emphasis on analysis, fact, and logical argument, whereas the latter is characterized by emotional and personal experience. We examined whether individuals influenced by the experiential system (E-processors) are more susceptible to extralegal biases (e.g. defendant attractiveness) than those influenced by the rational system (R-processors). Participants reviewed a criminal trial transcript and defendant profile and determined verdict, sentencing, and extralegal susceptibility. Although E-processors and R-processors convicted attractive defendants at similar rates, E-processors were more likely to convict less attractive defendants. Whereas R-processors did not sentence attractive and less attractive defendants differently, E-processors gave more lenient sentences to attractive defendants and harsher sentences to less attractive defendants. E-processors were also more likely to report that extralegal factors would change their verdicts. Further, the degree to which emotionality trumped rationality within an individual, as measured by a novel scoring method, linearly correlated with harsher sentences and extralegal influence. In sum, the results support an "unattractive harshness" effect during guilt determination, an attraction leniency effect during sentencing and increased susceptibility to extralegal factors within E-processors. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

MeSH terms

  • Criminal Law / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Decision Making*
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Guilt
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Male
  • Prejudice*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult