A new study from the University of Arizona found that courtrooms have a gender bias.
Psychologists created a mock trial where three female and three male lawyers delivered a closing argument based on a murder trial, using anger as an emotional tool.
Participants were asked to rate the lawyers in terms of their effectiveness when they expressed anger.
Both male and female test viewers found angry male attorneys to be commanding, powerful, competent and hireable. Angry female attorneys on the other hand, were perceived as shrill, hysterical, grating and ineffective.
Jessica Salerno, an ASU psychology professor and lead researcher on the study said:
A good attorney is expected to show traditionally male characteristics in court – anger, aggression, power. But what’s happening is that men benefit from this, while we are penalising women for showing these same characteristics.
We watch courtroom dramas where lawyers are expressing emotion, and there are fireworks in the courtroom. People expect attorneys to express themselves this way. This expectation sets men up well for success, but for women in backfires.
We asked the participants how angry they thought the actors were. Participants felt the men and women were similarly angry. But unfortunately, we did replicate the results found in other studies. The angry men were found to be more effective, and viewers wanted to hire them. This backfired for women. People thought the angry women were less effective, and they wanted to hire them less.
We all grow up in the same culture. We are exposed to the same gender stereotype. In the long term, this means that female attorneys may not be able to demonstrate the conviction and power people expect from men. This has unfortunate long-term implications for their careers and effectiveness with juries.
The study ‘Closing with Emotion: The Differential Impact of Male versus Female Attorneys Expressing Anger in Court’ is published in the journal Law and Human Behaviour.