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Guilty? Or Just Not Good-Looking?

ST. LOUIS (CN) - Criminal juries do tend to judge a book by its cover, a Cornell University study shows. The report, "When Emotionality Trumps Reason," claims that some jurors may be far more likely to convict an unattractive defendant than an attractive defendant, under the same conditions. The study also claims that those jurors are more inclined to recommend tougher sentences for unattractive defendants.

As part of the national study, theoretical jurors were each given the same details from a criminal assault case, including testimony, evidence and closing arguments. The defendant's profile was the same in each case. The only difference was a high-resolution color photograph from the Ohio Department of Corrections database.

The study used a sampling of 169 Cornell undergraduates to apply an attractiveness rating to each of the photos of white men, all of them within a 5-year age range. The highest- and lowest-rated pictures were shown to the theoretical jurors.

The study divided jurors into two groups: rational and experimental thinkers. Rational thinkers tend to emphasize analysis, fact and logical argument. Experimental thinkers rely on emotion and personal experience.

Both groups convicted attractive defendants at similar rates. But the experimental thinkers were 22 percent more likely to convict unattractive defendants and their sentences were 22 months longer for the same defendants.

The full study, written by Justin Gunnell and Stephen Ceci, is to be published in Behavioral Sciences and Law, according to the Cornell University website.

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