February 17, 2006

Ugly criminals.

A study correlates physical unattractiveness and crime:
[Naci Mocan of the University of Colorado and Erdal Tekin of Georgia State University] analyzed data from a federally sponsored survey of 15,000 high-schoolers who were interviewed in 1994 and again in 1996 and 2002. One question asked interviewers to rate the physical appearance of the student on a five-point scale ranging from "very attractive" to "very unattractive."

These economists found that the long-term consequences of being young and ugly were small but consistent. Cute guys were uniformly less likely than averages would indicate to have committed seven crimes including burglary and selling drugs, while the unhandsome were consistently more likely to have broken the law.

Very attractive high school girls were less likely to commit six of the seven crimes, while those rated unattractive were more likely to have done six of seven, controlling for personal and family characteristics known to be associated with criminal behavior.

Mocan and Tekin aren't sure why criminals tend to be ugly. Other studies have shown that unattractive men and women are less likely to be hired, and that they earn less money, than the better-looking. Such inferior circumstances may steer some to crime, Mocan and Tekin suggest. They also report that more attractive students have better grades and more polished social skills, which means they graduate with a greater chance of staying out of trouble.
Physical attractiveness is subjective, however. A person's inner life projects through his face and posture, so we may rate a depressed or angry or confused person as unattractive. It may be only that a person's mental condition leads to both criminal behavior and physical unattractiveness. A person with the sort of disordered mind that leads him down a criminal path might also do a poor job of grooming and weight control, another reason why it would not be the ugliness that causes the crime, but an antecedent factor that causes both the ugliness and the crime. In particular, drug and alcohol abuse affect a person's looks and connect to criminal behavior.

On the other side of this coin, those students with good grades and a nice social life might look attractive not because they were born that way, but because they are happy about their success.

There is also an economic factor. It may be that students who are better off find it easier to stay off the criminal path and also easier to improve their physical appearance with good haircuts, nice clothes, acne treatments, and nose jobs.

31 comments:

Palladian said...

"But I- that am not shap'd for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass-
I- that am rudely stamp'd, and want love's majesty
To strut before a wanton ambling nymph-
I- that am curtail'd of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deform'd, unfinish'd, sent before my time
Into this breathing world scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them-
Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to spy my shadow in the sun
And descant on mine own deformity.
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days."

I hear ya, Richard.

FXKLM said...

You're right that wealth and happiness and going to be positively correlated with being good looking, but I doubt that explains this. Did you miss the phrase "controlling for personal and family characteristics known to be associated with criminal behavior" in the artile?

Dave said...

Well clearly not all criminals are ugly.

Ted Bundy was rumored to be a hit with the ladies, as was the Preppy Murderer.

And my bet is white collar criminals are better looking than most.

Jennifer said...

I would have to wonder, too, about the possibility that a more attractive person would not be charged/convicted of a crime in the same situation that a less attractive person might be.

jult52 said...

Beauty isn't just an inherited trait -- certain people simply have better skills and instincts and can turn their features to their advantage. So good looks are also an indicator of other innate talents.

Bruce Hayden said...

I think that a lot of it has to do with popularity. With girls in particular, it seems like good looks translates into popularity, esp. in the dating realm, at least in HS. My girlfriend was able to go into marriage after graduation from college a virgin, tasting alchohol for the first time at her wedding. But she had guys lined up to date her throughout HS and college. But I have known a number of young women of their early 20s now who are carrying extra weight who ventured into sex and drugs to get acceptance, esp. from guys.

Its probably not as noticable for young men, but still, the best looking of them seem to live charmed lives, with everything coming to them easier, including sex, money, and success.

Of course, this can backfire - as some who live such apparently charmed lives take chances that most of us would not, because they can get away with it. (I may be overly sensistive here, as my youngest brother, the one of us who seemed to live such a charmed life, died in a climbing accident his Sr. year at Dartmouth).

I did have one former business partner who is very good looking and knows it. He goes through life cheating people, and getting away with it because of his looks. But, that exception doesn't really disprove the statistics.

Bruce Hayden said...

jult52

I think that some of it is also training. I see some trophy moms at my daughter's school, and by HS, their daughters seem to have picked it up. On the other hand, my girlfriend in college was able to turn herself at will into a ravishing beauty. It turns out that her father owned some pharmacies, and she had taken classes on makeup, etc. so as to be able to sell these high margin products, and the training showed. She could turn herself, who was usually cute, but average, into that ravishing beauty at a time when most girls of my generation were clueless (i.e. the hippie generation).

My current girlfriend can still do it as she nears 50. It wasn't something learned from her mother, but rather from modelling in HS and esp. in college. She took classes then on makeup, hair, etc., and they have helped her throughout life.

I am not suggesting, for a minute, that this is good. Rather, it is reality that men are attracted to better looking women, and that woman can make themselves significantly better looking with training and work.

But that doesn't mean of course that they are better people, and, indeed, I run from women who don't leave their houses without a lot of primping. I look for brains and personality (and that level of primping says to me that she is superficial), but have had to tell my daughter that most guys go primarily for looks, esp. before their 20s.

Anthony said...

I would take some issue with your statement that attractiveness is subjective. There have been a number of studies showing that certain aspects of "beauty" are indeed cross-cultural suggesting a biological basis for attractiveness (symmetry, proportion, etc.).

My university web access is wonky this morning so I can't get to full-text papers, but there are references at the Wikipedia entry.

in_the_middle said...

ann, you're sounding like sharon begley from the wall st. journal, she writes the science journal column once a week and it's fascinating. so, that's a good thing.

and, i think ted kozlowski is hot. porcine whit collar criminals can buy me dinner any time.

tcd said...

Anthony,
I remember reading about a study where toddlers were shown pictures of people and the people with the most symmetrical features got the best responses from the toddlers. I think it was a picture of the model Amber Valletta that got the most positive responses.

jult52 said...

Bruce: Good point about the family situation helping. You also have to include knowledgeability about diet. I attribute many of the problems with excess weight to be a simple function of ignorance on proper eating habits and factors involved in weight gain.

So beauty is a concatenation of heredity, innate abilities, family background and probably cultural background as well. A broad cliche -- but cliches are true.

Sean E said...

"Very attractive high school girls were less likely to commit six of the seven crimes, while those rated unattractive were more likely to have done six of seven,..."

Am I the only one curious about that one crime that attractive women are more likely to commit?

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maxine Weiss said...

My interpretation is that it's easier to get away with more, when you're attractive.

Juries are more likely to let pretty people off the hook. You might throw the book at someone so ugly.

Pretty women avoid getting speeding tickets.

Peace, Maxine

Aeolas said...

Man!

What if you're one of the students that were interviewed. If you read this story today, aren't you aching to know what your score was?

Just askin.

StrangerInTheseParts said...

unattractive people have lower self esteem. They think they don't matter as much and resent the world more. This in turn leads to higher incidence of crime.

Grace in everywhere said...

It takes more information on how the study was conducted to interpret the findings. For instance, the measure of crime rates or committed crime types is self-reported crime behavior rather than more objective statistics. Hence, I suspect that the physically attractive respondents (rated by interviewers in the beginning) tend to care more about self- & public- images and thus more likely to under-report the types of crime they have committed than the physically unattractive respondents.

Gaius Arbo said...

Studies like this tick me off. Or the reporting of studies like this.

Correlation does not imply causality.

miklos rosza said...

It's turned out that many criminals have very high self-esteem. Does this mean that they're ugly but overconfident?

I've served on jury duty a few times and yes, it's quite true that an ugly defendant is more likely to be convicted. But "likeability" enters in, very strongly, extending to the lawyers, and that's encompasses much more than someone's looks.

The voice, for instance, is a huge factor.

Maxine Weiss said...

And, who has ever been able to accurately predict human behavior?

Psychiatrists, psychics, soothsayers......actually, they are all one in the same, have certainly tried, without success.

And, now another federal survey insists it can predict who's going to engage in various conduct, based on physical features.

These federal surveys: Voodoo science using taxpayer money.

Peace, Maxine

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vbspurs said...

Am I the only one curious about that one crime that attractive women are more likely to commit?

Shoplifting.

Cheers,
Victoria

chuck b. said...

There's a long history of psueudoscience correlating a person's physical characteristics with criminal tendencies. (I'm not saying the UC study here is pseudoscience; not saying it ain't either) Link and link.

vbspurs said...

These economists found that the long-term consequences of being young and ugly were small but consistent. Cute guys were uniformly less likely than averages would indicate to have committed seven crimes including burglary and selling drugs, while the unhandsome were consistently more likely to have broken the law.

My God. Are we in the 18th century all over again??

That's when the topic of physical appearance being linked to criminality, first got its toe-hold (although doubtlessly, it was in the general culture of us human beings for millenia).

Two links for your amusement:

"The Born Criminal"

Explores the various physical traits associated with animals, and the resemblence such features, are manifested in behaviour by humans.

Or as I call it, the Bovine Principle:

You look and act like a pig, you are a pig.

The article also mentions that tattooing was long considered an indicator of criminality.

Me, I hate tats, and the people who have them (this includes my Naval Commander uncle), and I recoil whenever I see tats on a woman.

They look like hookers.

Second:

"Encyclopaedia of Criminology"

Mentions the Cavior/Howard study about the high school seniors.

It also mentions,

"In the fascinating policy-oriented research that became the basis for the movie Johnny Handsome, surgeons performed plastic surgery to correct deformities and disfigurements (e.g., protruding ears, broken noses, unsightly tattoos, and needle track marks from intravenous drug use) on the faces, hands, and arms of 100 physically unattractive men at the time of their release from Rikers Island jail in New York City (Kurtzberg et al. 1978). These ex-convicts were matched against a control group of equally unattractive inmates released from the jail who received no reconstructive surgery. When the researchers compared recidivism rates one-year later, those who received the surgery had significantly fewer rearrests. Apparently, improved appearance resulted in improved behavior.

So I suppose the message is, if you're a criminal, but want to stay out of the hoosegow, get a nose job.

Nice post, Ann.

Cheers,
Victoria

lindsey said...

Does anyone know where I can find one of these classes on makeup?

This reminds me of a conversation I was reading on another site about whether Angelina Jolie has had platic surgery. Some people thought her lips looked more asymmetrical when she was younger, but someone else posted that models, etc are taught all sorts of things they can do to make their lips look fuller, more symmetrical, etc., weird stuff like folding up a post-it and putting it under your top lip.

Kathy said...

Re: tattoos and piercings, Theodore Dalrymple has an informed opinion. See this column, for example:
http://www.city-journal.org/html/15_4_diarist.html

Roger Sweeny said...

Many years ago, in one of Dan Seligman's "Keeping Up" columns for Fortune, he said, "If you want to meet attractive young women, go to a selective college."

He had anecdotal evidence and a theory, "Successful people marry attractive people" and after a while, various genetic causes of success (especially IQ) become concentrated in attractive people.

Ever since, I've thought that a great high school science fair experiment would be to get yearbook pictures from the next town and ask your high school students to rate them on the basis of attractiveness. Then check their "attrativeness rank" against their academic "class rank."

Maxine Weiss said...

Does anyone have a picture of Pretty Boy Floyd? Baby Face Nelson? What about Dapper Dan? John Gotti was attractive. I don't know about the Don Corleone---those Italians knew how to dress, though.

Sammy (the Rat) Gravano was ugly, I think.

Bugsy Siegel cleaned up pretty well, I think.

Peace, Maxine

Richard Fagin said...

Ok, reapeat after me all you statistics unread political science majors: Correlation Is not Causation.

Studies like the one cited remind me so much of the story of the salamander trained to walk on command. When its handler chopped off the last of its legs, and the salamander no longer walked on command, the handler wrote in his journal that after cutting off all the salamander's legs, it appeared to be come deaf.

Ilkka Kokkarinen said...

My interpretation is that it's easier to get away with more, when you're attractive.

Yes, but then the attractive people would escalate in higher numbers towards criminality since they got away with the small stuff without punishment, whereas ugly people would quickly learn their place for every small infraction and not embark on the path of actual criminality.

SweetOne said...

Now, who said that not all criminals are ugly? Well, Criminals are all ugly if not by their looks by their activities at least! Shame on them!

Regards,
Ugly Animals