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June 8, 2017

"Facial Profiling: Race, Physical Appearance, and Punishment"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new empirical paper authored by Brian Johnson and Ryan King.  Here is the abstract:

We investigate the associations among physical appearance, threat perceptions, and criminal punishment.  Psychological ideas about impression formation are integrated with criminological perspectives on sentencing to generate and test unique hypotheses about the associations among defendant facial characteristics, subjective evaluations of threatening appearance, and judicial imprisonment decisions.

We analyze newly collected data that link booking photos, criminal histories, and sentencing information for more than 1,100 convicted felony defendants.  Our findings indicate that Black defendants are perceived to be more threatening in appearance.  Other facial characteristics, such as physical attractiveness, baby-faced appearance, facial scars, and visible tattoos, also influence perceptions of threat, as do criminal history scores.  Furthermore, some physical appearance characteristics are significantly related to imprisonment decisions, even after controlling for other relevant case characteristics.  These and other findings are discussed as they relate to psychological research on impression formation, criminological theories of court actor decision-making, and sociological work on race and punishment.

June 8, 2017 at 01:57 PM | Permalink


Do you mean people with black faces do not commit five times the crimes as whites or Asians? Do you people who deface their own bodies are not more likely to want to punch you in your face? Do you mean guys who are really ugly will not have to rape women more often to get sex than very good looking guys? Do you mean guys with many scars from frequent barroom knife fights are not more dangerous than people with unscarred faces?

Posted by: David Behar | Jun 8, 2017 11:00:31 PM

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