Scholarly article on topic 'The Effects of Masculinity and Suspect Gender on Perceptions of Guilt'

The Effects of Masculinity and Suspect Gender on Perceptions of Guilt Academic research paper on "Psychology"

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Applied Cognitive Psychology
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Academic research paper on topic "The Effects of Masculinity and Suspect Gender on Perceptions of Guilt"

Applied Cognitive Psychology, Appl. Cognit. Psychol. (2012)

Published online in Wiley Online Library ( DOI: 10.1002/acp.2823

The Effects of Masculinity and Suspect Gender on Perceptions of Guilt


University of Leicester, School of Psychology, UK

Summary: This study investigated whether perceptions of guilt for both male and female suspects co-varied with masculine physical appearance. In addition, the study tested whether the relationship between masculine physical appearance and perceptions of guilt was dependent upon whether the crime is stereotypically male perpetrated. Participants read one of three crime scenarios (burglary, child abuse and neglect, fraud and forgery) and evaluated the likelihood that suspects of varying masculine appearance committed the crime in question. Masculine physical appearance significantly affected guilt ratings across all crime types for both male and female suspects. Additionally, guilt ratings for male compared with female suspects were higher for burglary, a crime that was viewed as stereotypically male perpetrated by research participants. The results are discussed in relation to applied implications and future research directions. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Maria Perez was sentenced to life in prison for killing her ex-girlfriend. The prosecution attempted to 'de-feminise' her by highlighting her lesbian sexual orientation and portraying her dress and demeanour as 'manly' (Rambo, 2008). Criminological theories and official statistics have indicated that the majority of crimes are committed by men (Heidensohn, 1996; Home Office, 2011; Kruttschnitt, Gartner, & Ferraro, 2002; Office for National Statistics, 2008). Additionally, much theorising in Criminology has posited that crimes are especially likely to be committed by those who have an excess of masculine attributes, such as dominance and aggression (Carlen, 1985). Moreover, there is growing evidence in the literature that masculinity is a salient aspect of the criminal stereotype (Carlen, 1985; Heidensohn, 1985; Madriz, 1997; O'Connor, 1984; Reed & Reed, 1973). Some have argued that the increase in female offending seen in recent years is attributable to women adopting more masculine traits and behaviours (Weiler, 1999). Female offenders, especially if they have been convicted of a violent offence, also perceive themselves as having more masculine traits than female non-offenders (Herrington & Nee, 2005). The view that crime is mainly a masculine preoccupation raises the following research question: If a woman such as Ana Cardona is perceived as above average in masculine appearance compared with other women, will this affect people's assessments of her guilt all other things being equal?

The stereotype accessibility literature suggests that if a person comes under suspicion for having committed a crime, they may be more likely to be perceived guilty if they have masculine physical features, all other things being equal. Research has shown that people often rely on cognitive schemas or heuristics, which are mental representations that we use to organise and interpret our experiences (Fiske & Taylor, 1991). A stereotype is a social category schema, and people often make inferences about an individual on the basis of the degree to which the individual is representative of a particular social group (e.g. 'woman', 'criminal' or 'law enforcement' ) (Tversky & Kahneman, 1971). These

♦Correspondence to: Heather D. Flowe, University of Leicester, School of Psychology, 106 New Walk, Leicester, UK LE1 7EA. E-mail:

cognitive structures affect the encoding and processing of information about people (Macrae, Milne, & Bodenhausen, 1994; Stapel & Koomen, 2001). We are more likely to remember details and fill in informational gaps with schema consistent information, regardless of its accuracy (Hastie & Park, 1986; Stangor & McMillan, 1992). However, until now, research has not examined whether a masculine physical appearance serves as a cue that activates criminal stereotypes and influences person perception processes.

We hypothesised that a masculine physical appearance activates criminal stereotypes, which in turn biases people' s judgments about a suspect' s guilt. Previous work has demonstrated that faces rated high on perceived criminal appearance are more likely to be remembered (MacLin & MacLin, 2004; c.f. Yarmey, 1993) and identified from criminal lineups (Flowe & Humphries, 2011). More recently, masculine appearance has also been linked to identification outcomes. Turner (2007) demonstrated that the rate at which a male suspect is identified from a lineup is positively associated with having a masculine physical appearance. Moreover, people overwhelmingly report that the typical criminal perpetrator is 'male' when asked to describe what they think a criminal looks like (Madriz, 1997; O'Connor, 1984; Reed & Reed, 1973). Taken together, these results suggest that masculinity is a component of the criminal stereotype and, therefore, can influence people' s impressions of criminal suspects.

We were also interested in whether people' s perceptions of guilt varied depending on people' s stereotypes concerning the types of crimes that are committed by men versus women. For example, burglary, drug offences and crimes of violence against the person are more likely to be committed by men (Office for National Statistics, 2008). Perhaps the masculine criminal stereotype is more accessible if a woman is suspected of having committed one of these predominately male crimes. In other words, a masculine crime may increase the likelihood that masculine stereotypes will be retrieved from memory (see Fazio, 1990; Higgins, 1996). In line with this idea, people' s expectations about a criminal perpetrator' s physical appearance vary in relation to the type of criminal offence (Dumas & Teste, 2006; Kulka & Kessler, 1978; Macrae & Shepherd, 1989; Shoemaker, South, & Lowe, 1973; Sigall & Ostrove, 1975; Skorinko & Spellman, 2006;

Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Stewart, 1980; Yarmey, 1993). Research finds, for example, that mock jurors are more likely to find a defendant guilty if he has a face that is representative of the type of crime in question (Dumas & Teste, 2006; Macrae & Shepherd, 1989; Shoemaker et al., 1973). This research, however, has focused by and large on male suspects. One study that did examine whether people have stereotypes concerning perpetrator gender and crime found that people associate violent crimes and drug offences with male perpetrators, whereas prostitution and shoplifting are associated with female perpetrators (Skorinko & Spellman, 2006).

With respect to the face stimuli employed, we measured several dimensions of physical appearance in addition to masculinity to ensure that the faces viewed by participants were varying mainly along the masculinity dimension, rather than other features that are known to influence guilt assessments. First, physical attractiveness was measured because it has been shown that physically attractive people are less likely to be rated as guilty of committing a criminal act compared with unattractive people (Bull, 1979; Saladin, Saper, & Breen, 1988; Hodgkiss & Handy, 2007; Mocan & Tekin, 2006). Second, another physical attribute that we measured was criminal appearance. Macrae and Shepherd (1989) found that faces with a criminal appearance were rated higher on guilt, even after controlling for physical attractiveness. Additionally, Flowe and Humphries (2011) found in a random sample of police lineups that criminal appearance was a stronger predictor of mock witness identifications than either lineup member similarity or face distinctiveness. Third, the distinctiveness of the faces was measured. Previous research has found that not only are faces which are perceived to be more distinctive remembered more easily (Deffenbacher, Johanson, Vetter, & O'Toole, 2000) but that faces rated high in criminality are considered to be more distinctive than those low in criminality (MacLin & MacLin, 2004).

In measuring physical attractiveness, criminal appearance and distinctiveness, we sought to collect a set of faces for each gender that differed predominately in terms of their masculine appearance. By so doing, we were able to test whether masculine appearance influenced guilt perceptions over and above other physical traits that have been associated with guilt.

Present study hypotheses

On the basis of the literature reviewed, the following predictions were tested:

1. Masculine appearance was predicted to affect perceptions of guilt for both male and female suspects.

2. The relationship between masculinity and guilt perceptions was predicted to be stronger for crimes that are stereotyped as being predominately committed by male perpetrators.

METHOD Participants

In total, 151 participants were recruited (30 men and 121 women) with an age range of 19-50 years for men (mean = 30.8) and 18-77 years for women (mean = 30.0).

The sample was predominately Caucasian (84.1% identified as White British).


The experiment employed a 3 (masculine appearance) x 2 (suspect gender) x 3 (crime type) mixed design. The independent variables were masculine physical appearance (low, moderate or high), 'suspect' gender (male or female) and crime type (strong-stereotyped male crime, weak-stereotyped male crime or gender neutral). Masculine physical appearance was a within participants factor, whereas the other variables were controlled between participants. The dependent variable was evaluation of the suspects' guilt, as measured by guilt ratings on a 7-point Likert-type scale.


The crime and photographic stimuli were pilot tested. The overall aim of the pilot was to identify which crime types and face stimuli were most suitable for the main study. The pilot study consisted of two phases. The purpose of the first phase was to determine which types of crime men and women are believed to commit, whereas the second phase gathered ratings of masculinity, attractiveness, distinctiveness and criminality for the purposes of selecting photographic stimuli.

Crime stimuli

Ten crimes were selected from the Metropolitan Police Authority website ( definitions/) as well as major crime categories used in substation and patrol district crime lists within the USA (http:// The final crime types selected were robbery, burglary, rape, prostitution, child abuse and neglect, drug offences, domestic violence, forgery and fraud, assault and murder. The legal definitions for each crime type were also obtained from the above sources and were re-written in lay person' s terms so participants were clear of what each crime type entailed in order to answer the questions provided.

In order to assess which crime types were stereotypically believed to be committed by men, women or equally likely to be committed by men and women, a group of pilot participants (N =40, 50% women, mean age: 20.8, 75% White British), were randomly assigned to indicate the percentage of offences committed by men or to indicate the percentage of offences that would be committed by women. Participants were randomly allocated to rate either men or women in order to control for the effect of an own gender bias on ratings. Participants were presented with each crime type, including its legal definition, and then asked to indicate what percentages of arrestees were men (or women).

Three stimulus crime types were selected on the basis of the results of independent samples t-tests. The distribution of crime types by gender is provided in Table 1. As shown, a significantly higher percentage of men were believed to have been convicted of rape, whereas a significantly higher percentage of women were believed to have been convicted of prostitution. The crime of child abuse and neglect was found to be equally applicable to both men and women as

Table 1. Participant (N = 20) estimates of the percentage of crimes committed by men and women as a function of criminal offence category

Crime category Mean percentage

Suspect gender estimated SEM


Male 72.70 10.98

Female 31.10 17.63


Male 78.50 11.71

Female 22.75 16.77

Male 88.00 12.26

Female 10.25 9.44


Male 28.25 20.98

Female 80.20 19.98

Child abuse and neglect

Male 53.50 10.77

Female 56.60 13.38

Drug offence

Male 67.75 9.39

Female 43.90 9.54

Domestic violence

Male 74.60 14.83

Female 24.38 16.82

Male 64.25 17.04

Female 42.50 17.36


Male 75.75 9.60

Female 33.00 15.20


Male 72.65 11.70

Female 29.60 15.29

no significant difference between the groups was found. However, in order to avoid ceiling effects, the crimes that were found to have the second highest percentage difference in terms of gender were used. These crimes were burglary for the strong-stereotypic male crime and fraud/forgery for the weak-stereotypic male crime. Child abuse and neglect were chosen for the gender-neutral crime scenario.1

The crime scenario materials were based on the crime types identified from the pilot study. Each crime type was inputted into the LEXIS library database in order to examine real world cases and explore the way in which these cases were described. This allowed for a more realistic scenario to be constructed. The crime scenarios were as follows:

Burglary (strong-stereotyped male crime):On 14 March 2008, Mr Brown of 124 Regent Street rang the police to report that his home had been burgled. A neighbour had seen an individual enter the property through a downstairs window, after an unoccupied vehicle parked outside the house sparked concern. The individual was seen to be carrying items from the house to the parked vehicle. The

1 Participants reported men as more likely to be convicted of burglary (M=78.50) than women (M=22.75), t(33.97)= 12.19, p = .001. Men were reported as more likely to be convicted of forgery and fraud (M= 64.25) compared with women (M = 42.50) t(38) = 4.00, p = .001. Women and men were viewed as equally likely to commit child abuse and neglect (M=56.60 and M=53.50, respectively), t(38) = .81, p = .43.

neighbour then called out to the individual in order to identify if they were known the home owner. The individual was startled and proceeded to drive away in the vehicle with a number of items.

Fraud/forgery (weak-stereotyped male crime):On 14 March 2008, Officer Smith stopped a car because of a faulty light. The driver did not have a driver' s licence and gave the officer an identification card. Upon giving the driver's name to dispatch, the officer learned that the driver did not have a valid driver' s licence and that the identification card was forged. Upon searching the driver and the vehicle, a national insurance card and other documentation were discovered, which were also found to be counterfeit and being used to secure employment under a false identity.

Child abuse and neglect (crime equally applicable to both genders):On 14 March 2008, a 6-month-old baby was brought into hospital with a swollen leg, in which X-rays revealed was due to a fracture to the left femur. No valid explanation could be provided as to how the injury occurred; therefore, a social worker was called to the hospital. After conducting further tests, old healing rib fractures (approximately 1-week old) and indicators of malnourishment were found. In the opinion of the examining doctor, the injuries and symptoms in a child of this age were 'highly specific for child abuse and neglect' .

Photographic face stimuli

The photographic facial stimuli for phase 2 of the pilot was comprised of 80 mug shots (40 men and 40 women), which were obtained from the Oklahoma Department of Corrections website ( Using the offender search option, we inputted the criteria for selection. This was based on appearance and included specifying the offender' s gender (male or female), age (25 ± 5 years old) and ethnicity (White). The age and ethnicity of the individuals within the photographic face stimuli were held constant in order to control for the effects of an own-race and own-age bias. Therefore, anticipating that the majority of participants would be college age and Caucasian, the initial pool of photographs was selected using these parameters. Other physical characteristics such as weight, tattoos or distinctive marks were not specified. After narrowing down the possible sample of photographs using these guidelines, the final set of mug shots was randomly selected.

In total, six photographs of men and six photographs of women were selected for the experiment. Within each gender, there were three levels of masculinity (two faces that were relatively low in masculine appearance, two that were moderate and two that were high). Masculinity was the only significant dimension on which the faces were to vary. For these purposes, another group of pilot participants (N =38, 71% women, mean age: 29.6, 76% White British) rated the masculinity of the faces using a 7-point scale, anchored at 1 not at all masculine and 7 very masculine. The raters also evaluated the distinctiveness, attractiveness and criminal appearance of the faces using this scale. The intent was to ensure that these aspects of physical appearance did not vary significantly across the faces. Measuring these aspects allowed for controlling other aspects of physical appearance

that might affect guilt ratings. Faces were presented and evaluated one at a time to encourage the raters to make absolute ratings of these attributes.

The rating data were subjected to several paired samples t-tests until a set of pictures fitting the physical appearance selection criteria was found. Examples of the face stimuli appear in Figure 1.


The experiment was computer administered. The participant was presented with one of the three crime scenarios. Following the crime scenario, a photograph of a suspect for the crime in question was presented, and the participant rated the suspect's guilt on a scale from 1 to 7, with '1' indicating 'not at all guilty' and '7' indicating 'completely guilty'. Only one suspect was shown at a time. Participants had to rate the suspect shown before the next suspect was displayed. The presentation order of the photographic facial stimuli with respect to masculine appearance was counterbalanced across participants. Additionally, participants did not know in advance the number of faces that they would be rating.


The order in which participants evaluated the criminal suspects in terms of their masculine appearance did not influence guilt ratings in neither the female or male suspect conditions (F's < 1). Therefore, order was not considered further in the analyses that follow. The guilt ratings were analysed with a mixed ANOVA, with masculinity as the within participants factor, and suspect gender and crime type as the between participants factors; alpha was set to .05. The degrees of

freedom were Greenhouse-Geisser corrected in analysing the masculinity effects. Significant results from the ANOVA were followed up with Bonferroni corrected t-tests.

Figure 2 presents the relationship between masculinity level and guilt perceptions for male and female suspects by crime type. Suspects were more likely to be perceived as guilty if they looked more masculine (F(1.94, 281.83) = 13.19, p < .01, rfp = .08), regardless of whether they were men or women. Suspects who were relatively less masculine in appearance were given lower guilt ratings than suspects who had a moderate masculine appearance (M =3.43 and M =3.97, respectively), t(150) = —4.22, p < .001, and compared with suspects who were relatively high in masculine appearance (M =3.43 and M =4.10), t(150) = —4.59, p < .001. Suspects who were high versus moderate in masculine appearance did not significantly differ from each other with respect to guilt perceptions (p =.29).

Suspect gender and crime type had an interactive effect on guilt ratings, F(2, 145) = 4.07, p < .05, rp = .05. As can be inferred from Figure 2, the pattern of the data matches the pilot raters' estimates of the relative rate at which men and women commit burglary, child abuse and fraud (please see Table 1). Namely, participants seemed to be stereotyping the crime of burglary as a male crime, whereas the crimes of child abuse and fraud were viewed as less stereotypically male. To examine this further, the guilt ratings for the male and female suspects were compared within each crime category, using an alpha value of .016 (i.e. this was a Bonferroni corrected p-value: a/n = .05/3). In the case of burglary, a significantly lower guilt rating was assigned when the suspect was female compared with male (M =3.35 versus M =4.27, respectively), t(48)= —2.75, p < .01. No significant gender differences were found within the fraud/forgery (female M= 4.01

Figure 1. Example of face stimuli selected based on the pilot ratings. The level of masculine physical appearance increases from left to right

across the face stimuli

I fiiniùlc susucct maltiuSOect

burglary child fraud

Figure 2. Mean guilt ratings (+1 SEM) across the crime categories by suspect gender and masculinity level

versus male M = 3.65) or child abuse and neglect crime (female M =3.88 versus male M=4.07, respectively) categories.


We tested whether varying levels of masculine physical appearance influenced perceptions of guilt and whether this influence differed for male versus female suspects. Additionally, the relationship between perceptions of guilt and masculine appearance was examined across three types of crimes, which differed according to whether they are viewed as being stereo-typically male perpetrated. As predicted, individuals with a higher level of masculine appearance were more likely to be perceived as guilty irrespective of the masculinity of the crime and gender of the suspect. The relationship between masculinity and guilt ratings was predicted to be stronger for crimes that are committed by men. This was not the case, however. The results indicated that masculinity influenced perceptions of guilt independent of crime category.

Suspect gender, however, was found to affect guilt perceptions depending on crime type. Specifically, male suspects were given higher guilt ratings than female suspects for the crime of burglary, whereas female and male suspects were not rated differently for the crimes of fraud/forgery and child abuse and neglect. These results suggest that suspect gender, irrespective of masculine appearance, is influential with respect to perceptions of guilt if the crime in question is one that is deemed as being masculine in nature. Interestingly, people' s ratings of the crime categories with respect to suspect gender were by and large in keeping with actual crime statistics: Burglary is largely committed by men, whereas there is less of a gender gap for the crimes of forgery and fraud, followed by child abuse and neglect (Flatley, Kershaw, Smith, Chaplin, & Moon, 2010; Office for National Statistics, 2008).

The findings support the hypothesis that masculine physical appearance activates criminal stereotypes and thereby plays an influential role in person perception. The findings of the present study extend the results of Turner' s (2007) study, in which individuals with a higher masculine appearance were more frequently identified as the perpetrator of the crime compared with individuals with a relatively low level of masculine appearance. We similarly found that a person is more likely to be viewed as guilty if they are more masculine in appearance. Furthermore, the results indicated that the

relationship between masculine physical appearance and guilt holds for both male and female suspects. Quite possibly, the general population may have a tendency to believe that crime is largely committed by individuals who have an abundance of masculine physical features (Carlen, 1985), a view that was also espoused by early theorists in criminology. This belief, in turn, affects people's ground level assessments of guilt.

In relation to the nature of the crime and perceptions of guilt, other researchers (e.g. Shoemaker et al., 1973; Macrae & Shepherd, 1989) have found that suspect appearance affects guilt ratings depending on the type of crime committed. Our results extend this prior research. We found that the gender of the suspect affects perceptions of guilt depending on the type of crime in question. If a given crime was perceived as one that is committed more often by men than women (i.e. burglary), male suspects were given higher guilt ratings than female suspects. The results suggest that suspect gender is influential and separable to some degree from features that make faces appear excessively masculine. Evidence for this conclusion stems from our finding that male suspects, regardless of their masculinity level, were judged as guiltier than female suspects.

Implications and future directions

Future work may consider examining the influence of masculine physical appearance on mock jurors' perceptions of guilt, as well as legal officials charging recommendations and sentencing decisions. In the present study, participants were asked to rate the guilt of the stimuli in a somewhat impoverished context. Evidence of the suspect' s guilt (or innocence) was not provided. Hence, the only information that could be used to rate the suspect' s guilt was physical appearance. One possibility is that physical evidence could neutralise the biasing effect of suspect physical appearance on jury outcomes. However, criminal facial stereotypes have been found to be influential with respect to mock jury verdicts, regardless of the evidentiary strength of the case against the defendant (Dumas & Teste, 2006). It is yet to be determined whether this would also hold true with respect to masculinity.

In relation to lineups, masculine appearance has been found to influence identification responses for male suspects (Turner, 2007). If the lineup is not fair because the suspect looks relatively more masculine than the other members, the odds of the suspect being identified increase. Other work has demonstrated that identification outcomes can be biased toward the suspects in real world police lineups if the suspect is more criminal looking than the lineup fillers (Flowe & Humphries, 2011). To our knowledge, no studies examining the relationship between criminal stereotypes and lineup identification outcomes for female suspects have been conducted. Clearly, further research with female suspects is warranted.

Additional research is also needed to identify which physical features of faces give rise to perceptions of masculinity. Bustamante, Herrera, and MacLin (2001) examined the specific features that were used to rate individuals as having a masculine physical appearance. These features included large noses, eyebrows and mouths. At present, however, it is unknown as to whether these features are attended to in

forming guilt impressions. In the present study, the criminal appearance, attractiveness and the distinctiveness of the faces were held constant across the stimulus set. Consequently, the stimulus set for both genders differed significantly only in terms of criminal appearance. Previous research has demonstrated that faces rated high in criminal appearance are also rated as less attractive (e.g. Bull, 1979) and more distinctive (MacLin & MacLin, 2004). In all likelihood, the relationship between guilt and masculine appearance would have been stronger had we allowed criminal appearance and attractiveness to also vary across the stimulus set.

Finally, it is highly conceivable that there are factors that can moderate the influence of masculine appearance on judgement of guilt. For example, the extent to which people hold traditional gender role expectations varies regionally and across time (Powers et al., 2003; Twenge, 1997). Perhaps stereotype knowledge regarding the relationship between masculinity and criminal offences also varies along these lines. Additionally, the use of masculinity as a stereotype to judge culpability may also vary in relation to the perceiver' s gender. Like many psychology studies that draw from university samples of Psychology students, our sample was predominately female. It is conceivable that the effects we observed may have been larger had we had more men in the sample. There is some developmental evidence that boys may adhere more strongly to masculine stereotypes, as they demonstrate less masculine stereotype flexibility (Alfieri, Ruble, & Higgins, 1996).


Masculine physical appearance was found to influence perceptions of guilt. The relationship was found for both male and female suspects. Male suspects received higher guilt ratings than female suspects in the case of burglary, which is viewed stereotypically as a crime that is male perpetrated. Future research regarding the role of masculinity and criminal stereotypes with respect to legal outcomes is needed, especially with female suspects.


We would like to thank the anonymous reviewers and Pär Anders Granhag for their invaluable contributions to this manuscript.


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