Jurors influenced by gender, emotions, moral outrage

Liana Peter-Hagene

Angry men can sway jurors, but angry women are viewed as emotional, says doctoral candidate Liana Peter-Hagene. “People are influenced by stereotype,” she says. “There was no other explanation than gender.” Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin

If you’re serving on a jury and trying to sway fellow jurors, you’ll be more persuasive if you show anger. If you’re a man, that is.

But if you’re a woman and allow your temper to flare, the effect is just the opposite.

That’s one major finding of a study by Liana Peter-Hagene, a doctoral candidate in social and personality psychology.

“If a woman expresses anger, she’s seen as just overly emotional,” said Peter-Hagene (rhymes with agony). “When a man is angry, people think, ‘This must really mean something to him — he’s onto something.’

“If people think you’re angry for a good reason, you’re more influential. If they think it’s because you’re just losing it, you’re less influential.”

And they decide which it is by whether the juror is male or female, according to the study. “People are influenced by stereotype,” Peter-Hagene said. “There was no other explanation than gender.”

The study was based on interactions of 210 UIC undergrads, who sat on mock juries listening to evidence on a real case — a man on trial for murdering his wife. UIC alumna Jessica Salerno, assistant professor of psychology at Arizona State University, was principal investigator.

The findings have implications for female political candidates, Peter-Hagene said.

“Our take-home message is that people should think twice before discounting a woman’s opinion because it was expressed with anger, and to pay attention to how women are treated when they express emotion in public discourse.”


Going by gut feelings

She’s also done research on the effects of moral outrage on jurors.

“If you show people things that elicit anger and disgust, it makes them more punitive,” Peter-Hagene said. “You have to have both. Somehow they interact with each other. Each emotion makes us more likely to rely on our gut feelings.”

Persuading jurors that a defendant is evil creates a desire for revenge. “It has an effect on whether they are found guilty,” she said. “The desire to punish comes into play that should come at sentencing.”

In the trial of the man accused of murdering his wife, mock jurors’ anger and disgust was roused by showing them gory photos of knife wounds to the victim’s throat.

Another example: At the trial of one of the brothers who bombed the Boston Marathon, jurors were shown a video of a man on fire and people with their legs blown off.

“It was so disturbing that it probably affected decisions,” Peter-Hagene said. “Jurors become emotional rather than rational, and are more likely to find the defendant guilty.”

The phenomenon known as jury nullification is another area of scrutiny. “It’s the opposite of making things too punitive,” she said. “There is legal guilt beyond reasonable doubt, but the jury finds ‘Not guilty.’

“It’s usually on moral grounds. If the jury is supposed to be a representation of the community’s moral beliefs, it says, ‘This law is not in line with our moral beliefs.’”

Peter-Hagene grew up in Cluj-Napoca, Transylvania, Romania. The lack of economic opportunity, plus a friend’s move to the United States, persuaded her to do likewise. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UIC in criminal law and justice, but “working with Jessica Salerno and Bette Bottoms [psychology professor and dean emerita of the Honors College] convinced me to switch to psychology.”

Peter-Hagene lives in Wilmette with her husband, Jerry Hagene, an Illinois state trooper.

She’ll finish her Ph.D. soon. “I plan to be a professor, and continue to do research,” she said. “That would be ideal, that’s the dream. I’m applying for jobs now.”

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