Dateline: December, 2006, Issue 4

Does the gender of an expert witness affect his/her credibility?

Men and women serve as expert witnesses every day in America's courtrooms on topics ranging from automotive engineering to reasonable standards for elder care. Some topics of expertise are culturally associated with males, while others are culturally associated with females. Some topics of expertise seem very complex, while others appear less complex to jurors. Two recent studies examined the credibility of male and female expert witnesses on culturally-associated and complex topics.

In the first study, Couch and Sigler (2002) inquired whether jurors could separate their perception of the ideal gender for a profession from the testimony of an expert witness representing that profession. Mock jurors read about a civil case involving an automobile accident. Plaintiff's evidence came from an automotive engineer that for half of the jurors was said to be male, and for the other half of the jurors was said to be female. This research found that the male and female automotive engineers were equally effective, and the research concluded that jurors could separate their perception of the ideal gender for an automotive engineer from the testimony of the witness.

In the second study, Schuller and colleagues (2005) investigated whether the gender of an expert witness mattered for highly complex evidence, though not for less complex evidence. Mock jurors were presented a simulated civil trial involving an antitrust price-fixing agreement. The jurors were separated into four groups. One group of jurors was presented with highly complex testimony from a male expert, while another group was presented the same testimony from a female expert. A third group of jurors was presented less complex testimony from a male expert, while the last group was presented the same testimony from a female expert. The male expert was judged to be more persuasive than the female expert when the testimony was highly complex, while the female expert had the advantage when the testimony was less complex.

Source Couch, J. V. & Sigler, J. N. (2002). Gender of an expert witness and the jury verdict. The Psychological Record, 52, pp. 281-287.

Source Schuller, R. A., Terry, D. & McKimmie, B. (2005). The impact of expert testimony on jurors' decisions: Gender of the expert and testimony complexity. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 35, pp. 1266-1280.