Ep 154: Why Do Some People Just LOOK Guilty?

MichaelSocial Psychology9 Comments

A woman is being accused of killing her children. She “looks” guilty. These are 5 reasons why we tend to think that a lot of people are guilty even before they’ve been tried. The trial of accused child murdered Casey Anthony is over and Casey was found not guilty. Most people are extremely upset because she appeared to be guilty for many reasons. None of these are based on evidence, but instead on what might be going on inside your mind that made you think she was guilty. Why do we tend to find people guilty in the “court of public opinion” so quickly?

  • We have a strong need for closure: we want to find someone guilty and then get on with our lives. Things left unclosed leave us hanging. We’re uncomfortable with the thought that life is chaotic.
  • We like simplicity: it’s hard to think about all the complexities that might be involved in a murder case.
  • Casey Anthony is attractive: we tend to get really negative when we think that an attractive person is using their attractiveness to try to get away with something. If Casey Anthony were more ordinary looking….

  • Role theory: when you put someone in a role – like “the accused” – it’s hard NOT to also attribute other negative characteristics to that person. We see Casey in prison clothes and in handcuffs. It’s hard to think of accused persons as “innocent until proven guilty” these days
  • Casey Anthony didn’t seem to be upset when we saw her on TV: we expect her to be crying and distraught all day long. We imagine that we would feel and act that way if our child was murdered. Research shows that no matter what happens to us – really good or really bad – we tend to return to our natural, day-to-day selves within about 6 months. This is especially hard to imagine when the TV news shows us, within about a minute, a picture of a very cute child and then a video of a mother who doesn’t seem to be upset.
  • Interesting article on why the jury made the right decision: The Casey Anthony verdict: The jury did the right thing
  • Here’s another psychologist’s perspective on the Casey Anthony trial. This blog post is by John M. Grohol, PsyD: The Psychology of the Casey Anthony Trial

The offensive(?) joke:

A man is walking along the street when he is brutally beaten and robbed. He lies unconscious, bleeding. While he is lying there, a police officer passes by, but crosses to the other side of the road, without trying to help. A boy scout troop does the same. As do a number of pedestrians. Finally, a psychologist walks by, and runs up to the man. He bends down and says, “My God! Whoever did this needs help.” Found here.

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9 Comments on “Ep 154: Why Do Some People Just LOOK Guilty?”

  1. No, Casey Anthony is guilty because:

    1) She lied about her daughter’s whereabouts for a month and showed little to no concern when she finally admitted her daughter was missing.

    2) She was driving around a car that reeked of decomposition. Two cadaver dogs alerted on it, maggots were found in it and a hair with a death band was found in it. Casey Anthony was fully aware of the smell in her car and texted excuses about it, blaming it on roadkill.

    3) Casey ditched said car and never came back for until it was eventually towed. She was trying to distance herself from the car.

    4) The drowning story was the third story that she told.

    5) Caylee was dumped with a bunch of items from the house (the laundry bag, the duct tape)

    6) Duct tape was found on Caylee’s skull, indicating that she did not drown in the pool.

    7) Caylee was found in Casey’s old pet cemetary where she and Kiomarie buried their pets.

    8) Casey had no reaction to the news story of bones being found in a nearby lake. In fact, she laughed it off. When Caylee was actually found and before it was confirmed to be Caylee, Casey immediately went into hysterics.

    BTW, Casey Anthony is not attractive. She looks like a fucking horse.

  2. It’s a pity you don’t have a donate button! I’d without a doubt donate to this superb blog! I guess for now i’ll settle for book-marking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward to brand new updates and will talk about this website with my Facebook group. Chat soon!

  3. Gus: sorry you didn’t like the episode. I guess they’re not all for every taste, but I do try to connect everything I mention to one psychological theory or another. I hope you do listen to other episodes. I’ve been thinking of making some changes to my format, so any feedback is helpful. Appreciate it.

  4. I have recently subscribed to the podcast as I casually stumbled upon an episode on positive affirmations, which I think was pretty good. A couple of other eps I listened to were equally entertaining.

    That said, I couldn’t get past the 5 minute mark on this one. I don’t think enough background was given on the Casey Antony case and why it was worth bringing it up on a psy podcast. Plus, the jokes segment was jarring to the point of making me want to hurl my iPod out of the window. I promise to listen on, but please leave psychologist jokes for Woody Allen. Please.

  5. Howdy Michael,
    I thought this was a great episode, and wonderfully complements your previous one by really examining how psychology can inform us how we make decisions on hot-button topics – topics that all too often are not spoken about for the fear of upsetting people.
    I know nothing about the Casey Anthony case and so I could listen to this episode without any emotional baggage at all and I found it very, very valuable. That said, I suspect my parents might see parallels between the Casey Anthony case and the Azaria Chamberlain case (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azaria_Chamberlain_disappearance) in Central Australia back in 1980 (a baby went missing, the mother claiming it was taken by a dingo, which was highly suspect – I believe that although the mother was initially convicted of murder, that’s been overturned) and would probably find the episode a bit more challenging to listen to.
    Great episode though. Well done!

  6. I agree Deagan. Life is complicated and we’re all busy with out own lives. Who has time t think about all the possible ways of looking at things? Of all the details and complexities? So, we take a lot of cognitive shortcuts.

  7. As hard as we try to deny or rationalize, humans are trained (almost hardwired) to discriminate. At the same time, we also like to see what we want to see, not what is. Perception becomes reality; it’s easier to believe the lie than to mess with the truth.

  8. jean-Baptistery: what a unique perspective on that joke! You know, I’ve been meaning to learn more about Zimbardo’s Time Perspectives but for some reason I just haven’t gotten around to it. I know there’s a video of him talking about this idea on TED, but I just haven’t watched it yet. I’m definitely going to watch it now. Could be “fodder” for another episode on that topic. Thanks so much for your suggestion. Very interesting. I’ll comment again after I’ve watched the video.

  9. I listened to the podcast with great interest as usual. I find it very informative and it certainly helps to improve critical thinking skills.

    I would like to comment about the joke: the psychologist who is more interested in “helping” the aggressor than the victim. It automatically reminded me of Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory. Zimbardo and Boyd claimed that people have different conception of time such as: “Past negative”, “Present-Hedonistic”, “Past-Positive”, “Present Fatalistic” and “Future”.

    I will not go into details for each category, however, I want to draw attention to the “Future” category characterized by the consideration of future consequences. In fact, the psychologist behavior, as depicted, in the joke is completely future oriented: finding reasons why someone did something wrong should help to prevent other group members from following the same path. From an evolutionary perspective it certainly helps the social group to learn and avoid past mistakes. I personally prefer prevention rather than repression. We may want to test psychologists Time Perspective in order to confirm or refute a potential “future” oriented conception of time.

    Thank you for your posts.

    Jean-Baptiste Quillien

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