Judges insanity decisions show same sex bias

An interesting abstract from the latest Nordic Journal of Psychiatry: when given otherwise identical case reports of murderers marked either male or female, psychiatrists and psychology students were more likely to declare women ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’. In contrast, judges showed an interesting same sex bias, in that they were more likely to declare a person of the same sex ‘legally insane’ than a perpetrator of the opposite sex.

Evidence of gender bias in legal insanity evaluations: a case vignette study of clinicians, judges and students.

Nord J Psychiatry. 2008;62(4):273-8.

Yourstone J, Lindholm T, Grann M, Svenson O.

Forensic psychiatric decision-making plays a key role in the legal process of homicide cases. Research show that women defendants have a higher likelihood of being declared legally insane and being diverted to hospital. This study attempted to explore if this gender difference is explained by biases in the forensic psychiatric assessments. Participants were 45 practicing forensic psychiatric clinicians, 46 chief judges and 80 psychology students. Participants received a written vignette describing a homicide case, with either a female or a male perpetrator. The results suggested strong gender effects on legal insanity judgements. Forensic psychiatric clinicians and psychology students assessed the case information as more indicative of legal insanity if the perpetrator was a woman than a man. Judges assessed offenders of their own gender, as they were more likely to be declared legally insane than a perpetrator of the opposite gender. Implications of and possible ways to minimize such gender biases in forensic psychiatric evaluations need to be thoroughly considered by the legal system.

Is it me, or does the first author already look like she’s just stepped out of some CSI spin-off?

Link to PubMed entry for study.

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