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Saving Face: How Looks Impact Court Sentences
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Summary: A recent study from the University of Toronto suggests that one’s facial appearance may have a big impact on sentencing.


If you don’t look trustworthy, watch out: you’re more likely to receive a harsher sentence if you are ever in trouble with the law.

In an interesting new study, psychology researchers at the University of Toronto analyzed the relationship between facial trustworthiness and real-life criminal sentences, the Wall Street Journal reports. They found that facial appearance has a tremendous impact on punishments, “even to the point of execution.”

Over 700 mugshots of black and white criminals in Florida were collected. These images are available on a public online database. Florida still allows the death sentence, so the researchers studied inmates that had murder convictions. Convicted individuals either receive life without parole or are placed on death row to await execution.

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Check out this teen’s mugshot.

The photos ranged from “scowling frowns and blank stares to toothy grins.”

To rate the photos, 200 individuals were asked to participate in the study. These participants viewed around 100 pictures, and rated trustworthiness on a scale of 1 to 8, with 1 being very untrustworthy and 8 being extremely trustworthy.

Although prison uniforms were visible in the photos, the participants were given no additional information about the individuals, such as crimes committed or sentences received.

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The ratings were then compared with the sentences the inmates received. They found evidence for sentencing biases based on facial trustworthiness, even in individuals who were exonerated of their crimes. The study added, “This shows compelling evidence for the ability of facial appearance to guide the severity of sentencing decisions…”

Here’s an article about the arrest of Jenelle Evans, along with her mugshot.

The Daily Mail also added that if a convict’s lips turned upward, they fared better, but a natural frown could be damning.

The study commented that it is “possible people who look less trustworthy commit more odious crimes,” but the authors noted that the results strongly suggest that sentences are more about people’s perceptions of trustworthiness. Race also seemed to make no difference in the study, Metro noted.

Journey’s drummer was recently arrested in Oregon.

John Paul Wilson, the lead author of the study, said, “People should be aware of these biases and their susceptibility to them. Any one of us could find ourselves on a jury one day, and the more we know about what can bias our judgments, the more we can be equipped to combat them.”

Source: Wall Street Journal

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