A new study has been released that argues that how someone looks has a great impact upon how they are perceived insofar as being sentenced for a crime.
According to this new research, someone whose face gives them an untrustworthy appearance is more like to get more years behind bars and harsher sentences.
The study was done by comparing faces of those who had been sentenced for crimes and the sentence that they received. The death penalty was included here. According to these researchers from the University of Toronto, mugshots of folk were used.
First, participants in the study were asked to look at the mugshots and rate them. The photos were rated on a “trustworthiness scale” (1 being very untrustworthy and 8 being extremely trustworthy).
All the mugshots came from prisoners in Florida prisons who had been convicted of murder.
Over 700 mugshots were used.
After the mugshots had been rated, the researchers compared the ratings to the sentences handed down. They found that the lower the ranking on the “trustworthiness scale,” the harsher the sentence.
Facial Trustworthiness and Death Penalty Study Results
Of particular note (quoting from the abstract)(emphasis added):
“Untrustworthy faces incur negative judgments across numerous domains. Existing work in this area has focused on situations in which the target’s trustworthiness is relevant to the judgment (e.g., criminal verdicts and economic games). Yet in the present studies, we found that people also overgeneralized trustworthiness in criminal-sentencing decisions when trustworthiness should not be judicially relevant, and they did so even for the most extreme sentencing decision: condemning someone to death.…
“In Study 1, we found that perceptions of untrustworthiness predicted death sentences (vs. life sentences) for convicted murderers in Florida (N = 742).
“Moreover, in Study 2, we found that the link between trustworthiness and the death sentence occurred even when participants viewed innocent people who had been exonerated after originally being sentenced to death. These results highlight the power of facial appearance to prejudice perceivers and affect life outcomes even to the point of execution, which suggests an alarming bias in the criminal-justice system.”
– J. Wilson, N. Rule, "Facial Trustworthiness Predicts Extreme Criminal-Sentencing Outcomes," Psychological Science, July 15, 2015.
An alarming bias, indeed.