Overweight people are seen as ‘too fat’ to commit crime
28 September 2015
Researchers at LSBU have examined the influence of body type on
eyewitness perception of crimes, and if it led to similar bias as other factors
such as race, age and gender.
in the study – in the Journal Psychiatry, Psychology and Law – were
shown one of two short videos, depicting a violent or non-violent robbery. In one
video the victim had their wallet stolen, and then was violently assaulted and
knocked to the ground. The other video displayed a non-violent crime where the
perpetrator took the victim’s wallet by stealth. In each case, the crime was
perpetrated by a person dressed to conceal their facial features and physique.
The study participants were then asked to identify the
person they witnessed committing the crime from a suspect line-up of muscular,
overweight and normal suspects. The photos in the line-up had been previously
manipulated so that each face in the line-up was randomly assigned a body-type,
as was possible due to clever photo editing.
Unbeknownst to the participants, the true perpetrator of
the crime was not offered as a suspect choice in the line-up. This resulted in
the participants having to rely on judgments regarding the suspects based on
their own bias.
results found that 51% of participants accused muscular suspects of being the
perpetrator in the video. This was followed by 37% of participants selecting
suspects of a normal weight. Only 10% of participants identified overweight
suspects as the perpetrator.
Dr Julia Shaw (pictured), Senior Lecturer in Criminology at LSBU,
about body type may be getting in the way of justice. Our findings suggest
that if you are an innocent suspect of a crime but happen to be muscular, you may
be at a significant disadvantage.
“Body type is often overlooked as a basis for
discrimination, and has rarely been examined in legal contexts. The present
research is evidence that the body type of a suspect can impact the partiality
of eye-witness accounts.
that this was the outcome for both of our scenarios, a violent mugging and
a simple theft. We may have expected that muscular body types may have played a
bigger role in the scenario involving a physical altercation, but this was not
the case. Muscular men were always at a disadvantage compared to individuals of
other statures, regardless of the type of crime.
this means that police may benefit from ensuring that suspects in police
line-ups are matched as much as possible on body type to avoid relying on
stereotypes.” Dr Shaw added.