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Study finds bias against angry female attorneys

03 July 2018

An American study has found that male attorneys expressing anger were viewed more positively, whereas female attorneys expressing the same anger were viewed more negatively.

"In this study, we found support for the idea that female lawyers are punished for 'acting male'," Jessica M Salerno and Hannah Phalen of the Arizona State University School of Social and Behavioural Sciences say.

The authors say that "rare research" on expressing anger specifically in legal contexts indicates that men are rewarded for anger expression while women are punished. They believed that the courtroom might be a rare context in which women are able to express anger "because it is considered appropriate and even expected for attorneys to express their arguments with emotion".

"Instead, we again found a bias against angry female attorneys: participants were more likely to hire angry (versus not angry) male attorneys but less likely to hire angry (versus not angry) female attorneys."

Their research, "Predictors of Negative Reactions to Female Attorneys Expressing Anger in Court", involved two experiments examining reactions to attorney anger expressing in court.

In the experiments, participants viewed a video of a closing statement. The closing statement was delivered by either a male or a female trial attorney in a calm or angry tone. Participants completed measures of perceptions of how effective the attorney was, and several individual difference factors that might predict greater bias against angry female attorneys (ie, ambivalent sexism scale, political conservatism, age).

Dr Salerno and Ms Phalen say that across two experiments they found that individual difference measures that were theorised to be related to participants’ endorsement of traditional gender roles determined the level of bias against angry female attorneys.

"Angry (versus calm) female attorneys were penalised more and angry (versus calm) male attorneys were rewarded more as individual difference proxies for endorsing traditional gender roles increased (ie, benevolent sexism, political conservatism, and age).

"Thus, the gender bias we demonstrated is likely to be due, in part, to the fact that angry women are being penalised for violating traditional gender roles by expressing anger, while angry men are being rewarded for conforming to traditional gender roles by expressing anger - despite the fact that the attorneys were all delivering the same exact arguments and similar displays of anger."

Last updated on the 16th September 2019