The Impact of Gender-Role Congruence on the Persuasiveness of Expert Testimony

By McKimmie, Blake M.; Schuller, Regina A. et al. | University of Queensland Law Journal, December 2019 | Go to article overview

The Impact of Gender-Role Congruence on the Persuasiveness of Expert Testimony


McKimmie, Blake M., Schuller, Regina A., Thomas, Simon, Sherrel, Helen, University of Queensland Law Journal


I THE IMPACT OF GENDER--ROLE CONGRUENCE ON THE PERSUASIVENESS OF EXPERT TESTIMONY

It is generally assumed that jurors are both rational and informed arbiters of fairness, (1) and that jurors have an adequate comprehension of the legal procedures and duties relevant to their role as decision-makers. (2) Research conducted over the past three decades, however, has suggested that just like individuals in everyday life, jurors in the courtroom are influenced by heuristics, which are cognitive shortcuts for making decisions. In particular, such research suggests a tendency for individuals to rely upon heuristics when making decisions about complex, ambiguous or personally irrelevant information. (3) Research has also shown that stereotypes, which can act as heuristics via their pre-existing evaluations of stereotyped targets, can influence jurors' decision-making processes within the context of novel ideas and situations. (4)

Expert witnesses provide a potentially valuable way for courts to educate jurors about things outside their everyday experience, (5) although due to the complexity of such expert testimony, jurors often struggle to understand it. (6) Thus, is it not surprising that research has shown that a variety of stereotypes influence the evaluation of experts and their testimony. Stereotypes about an expert's gender have a consistent effect on how they are evaluated, (7) and these findings have often been explained in terms of role congruity theory--the idea that people are evaluated more positively when they occupy roles consistent with expectations for people of their gender. (8) Despite this, much of this research has focussed on features of the expert or the case itself, rather than the role occupied by the expert. The current research set out to directly test the possible effect of the match between an expert's gender and the role they occupy on how mock jurors perceive the expert and the expert's testimony.

Expert gender is one of a range of extra-legal factors that have been shown to influence how perceivers view an expert's testimony. Mock jurors' perceptions of expert testimony are influenced by presentational format, (9) the expert's credentials, (10) the expert's likeability (11) and confidence, (12) the match between the expert's gender and the content domain of the case, (13) and even the match between the expert's gender and his or her style of language. (14) Moreover, expert gender has also been shown to exert an overall influence on perceivers' evaluations of an expert's credibility, (15) and to moderate evaluations of how experts perform under cross examination. (16) One way to understand how these extra-legal factors influence mock jurors' perceptions is by considering models of persuasion.

A Dual Process Models of Persuasion

A jury trial can be thought of as a series of persuasive messages directed at the jury. Jurors' capacity for thinking carefully about that information will be reduced when they are under cognitive demand (ie they are being asked to think about a large amount of information or complex and/or contradictory information). (17) Jurors may be able to rely on stereotypes, such as those based on an expert's gender, to help them conserve some of their cognitive resources. These stereotypes may act as heuristics by offering a quick and easy decision rule for evaluating otherwise complex expert testimony, thus reducing the amount of information to which the juror must attend. Such a possibility is at the core of dual processing models of persuasion, such as the elaboration-likelihood model (18) and the heuristic-systematic model. (19) Broadly stated, these models suggest that under some conditions, individuals engage in rapid, heuristically based inferential processing, whereas in others, the information presented is processed more deliberately and systematically.

To account for this contrast in style of thinking, Petty and Cacioppo (20) proposed the elaboration-likelihood model of persuasion, which analyses cognitive responses to persuasive communications. …

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