Saturday, June 5, 2010

Economics of discrimination

I had blogged earlier about fve examples of that illustrate the importance of initial conditions, family and societal environment, and contextual factors in influencing outcomes in unexpected manners.

Now a Cornell University study "When Emotionality Trumps Reason" by Justin Gunnell and Stephen Ceci finds that unattractive defendants are 22% more likely to be convicted than good-looking ones, and that the unattractive also get slapped with harsher sentences - an average of 22 months longer in prison - and in case of damages more attractive people tend to receive higher rewards.

The study involved 169 Cornell psychology undergraduates who were initially classified as either rational or emotional decision-makers through an online survey and then given case studies of defendants, complete with a photograph and profile, were read jury instructions and asked to listen to the cases' closing arguments. In serious cases with strong evidence, there was little difference in the conviction rate between attractive and unattractive defendants. But in more minor cases, with ambiguous evidence, jurors were more biased toward the good-looking, confirming what the study calls a "unattractive harshness effect". Their conclusion,

"Information processing can proceed 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... Our hypothesis was that if we identify the two groups, then the experiential people are more likely to focus on extralegal factors (like attractiveness), which shouldn’t have any bearing on the legal process".

Update 1 (8/7/2010)
A nation-wide record-linkage cohort study of over 950,000 Swedish men born 1950–75 with respect to attained education for up to 27 years after measurement of height at baseline age 18, finds strong co-relation between height and attained education in later life, after controlling for all other factors.

Update 2 (13/8/20010)
Freakonomics has this post with links to the various other types of discriminations.

Update 3 (9/9/2010)
Chris Dillow has links to lots of strange things that affect our earnings - looks and ugliness, height, marital status, sexual orientation, left-handedness, personality (pdf) or participation in sport, not to mention ethnicity and gender. We can add another to the list - an optimistic disposition - optimists out-perform their peers in the job market.

Update 4 (23/9/2010)

Freakonomics points to a study by Shamena Anwar, Patrick Bayer, and Randi Hjalmarsson which uses data from criminal trials and finds "strong evidence that all-white juries acquit whites more often and are less favorable to black versus white defendants when compared to juries with at least one black member".

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