Recently, I came across a study on bias against fat ladies. Researchers at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity found that a “significant bias” exists “…against female

[obese] defendants in the courtroom….”(“Huffington Post“)

The researchers created a mock jury trial using 471 participants of various weights. Each was then shown a “vignette describing a case of check fraud” and while watching it, the participant was also shown a “mug shot” of the possible defendant; the picture was either of a lean male, a lean female, an obese male or an obese female. (The photos were photo shopped so that the same woman and the same man were used twice, once as obese and once as lean – to control for age and attractiveness.) (Study at page 2) (“ABC News“)

After looking at these photos, the participants were asked to rate on a scale of 1 to 5 how guilty each person looked in the photos.

The study found that weight based discrimination has increased 66% since 1995 and is on equal footing with race discrimination (Study). Its results:

Male participants rated the obese female defendant guiltier than the lean female defendant, whereas female respondents judged the two female defendants equally regardless of weight. Among all participants, there were no differences in assessment of guilt between the obese male and the lean male defendants. (Huffington Post, supra.)

The article also points out that an earlier study in 2008 also found that “…men were more likely to be accepting of weight-based discrimination…” as well. The Study itself notes that earlier studies in both simulated and real trials found that “…physically attractive defendants are judged more leniently than [their] less attractive counterparts. …[A]ttractive defendants are considered more likable and less responsible for the crime; they are less likely to be convicted, and when convicted, are given less severe punishments than less attractive individuals.” (Study at page 1.)

Notably, the average age of the 471 participants was 34.85 years, å± 13. 82 years while the mean body mass index was 25.35 å±5.91kg/m. The majority was Caucasian (74.5%) while 15.3 % were Asian, 4.9% Hispanic, 3.6% Black and 1.7% other. (Study at page 2.)

Yet, the ABC news article questions the validity of this study when it comes to real jury trials. The article notes that most studies of how actual juries react indicate that the most important factor to a jury in deciding the outcome of a trial is the weight of the evidence; demographics, how people look and act on the stand carry only negligible weight.

Do people carry this bias against obese women into mediation or a negotiation? Does it affect the ability to settle a matter? Does it affect the amount of settlement or the credibility of the obese party? According to this study, weight bias does exist. While I do not know the answers to these questions, I do know that these issues are certainly present and worth considering. As people often say, first impressions do count and you get to make them only once!

…. Just something to think about.

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