School of Biological and Chemical Sciences

Terence McElvaney


PhD student



Project title: Profiling Judicial Judgments of Guilt and Innocence

Summary: Our first impressions (“biases”) about other people are based on how they look, and these first impressions critically inform our future interactions and assessments. For example, when we see someone’s face we can infer personality traits such as sociability, morality, and competence in as little as 34 milliseconds. These rapid inferences shape a wide range of decisions that we make about people, from employment to electoral decisions. Indeed, first impressions of superficial attributes generate biases that have strong influence over our choices in personal, professional, and even political contexts. Crucially, these inferences may also play a role in decisions around judicial assessments of guilt and innocence.

My aim is to understand how a person’s facial features and body morphology influences the judgments that others make about them. Specifically, I will simulate judicial decision-making contexts to address (a) Which fundamental personality / behavioural trait inferences are most affected by face and body morphology? (b) Can we predict these biases with objective measures such as eye tracking? (c) How do people’s biases affect their decision-making with regards to judgements around someone’s guilt or innocence?