The Ugly Face of Crime
February 20, 2006 4:58 PM   Subscribe

Mocan and Tekin aren't sure why criminals tend to be ugly. Is it that ugly people make less money? Is it that they are given lower grades? Is it that people are just mean to them and they hate the world? Or does their asymmetry hint at psychological imperfections like criminal tendencies? Scientist have long suspected a connection between crime and physiognomy.
posted by missbossy (57 comments total)
Their paper (pdf) points out the market opportunity for the attractive: "Good looks may enhance utility in the criminal sector. This can happen, for example, if beauty instills trust, which would increase the return from crime." Brought to you by the guys who ruled out Catholic schools as a deterrent for bad behaviour.
posted by missbossy at 4:59 PM on February 20, 2006

Fortunately for society, I'm tall and gorgeous.

Funny aside, I worked in a courtroom over the summer. After a few weeks, my peers and I could pick out the government attorneys from the private attorneys without even glancing at the docket. All the government lawyers looked (and dressed) extremely frumpy - even frumpier than the low-rent sole practitioners that came in occassionally.
posted by MrZero at 5:04 PM on February 20, 2006

posted by Hildegarde at 5:06 PM on February 20, 2006

It's the mean treatment. If your whole life you are treated as less of a person, your options for success are cut off and your loathing of "people" who treat you cruelly only increases. Crime- its desperation and its necessity of dehumanizing your victims- depends up on this lifelong process of manufacturing criminals. It starts in the crib, when ugly babies are touched less, and works its way from there.

Ugly people- and I speak as one of great hideousness- are treated universally with disdain and contempt. I can't even get good service at restaurants, I can even see the clenched smiles of the waitstaff that I know are repulsed by my very presence. While I'm not a criminal, I do hate people because I know they hate me for not being attractive.

On preview: yes, Hildegarde, there are obviously exceptions, especially since sociopathic disorders are not the same as the statistical set of all lawbreakers- i.e., not all lawbreakers are sociopaths, and vice versa. That is, if that's the couple I'm thinking of, where they drugged and date raped random women, including the bride's own sister or cousin. Isn't she due to be released from prison because she testified against him for a lesser sentence?
posted by hincandenza at 5:16 PM on February 20, 2006

Date raped...imprisoned and murdered teenaged girls (including her sister). Chopped them up in to pieces and dipped them in concrete, too. She's already out of prison and living in Montreal. He's still behind bars, however.
posted by Hildegarde at 5:22 PM on February 20, 2006

I've never seen a homely child as a teacher's pet. In public school I saw teachers lavishing attention on good-looking kids and ignoring or even picking on homely ones. Probably why to this day I don't trust someone if they tell me they're a teacher.
posted by TorontoSandy at 5:26 PM on February 20, 2006

The problem is we can't give ugly people Special Victim Status because most people are ugly. I mean, percentage wise, it's probably a bit over half. If society didn't encourage the ugly people to internalize their physical deficiency then all the beautiful people would be in jail and, well, we can't have that, can we?
posted by nixerman at 5:29 PM on February 20, 2006

random women, including the bride's own sister or cousin. Isn't she due to be released from prison because she testified against him for a lesser sentence?

She was released a couple months ago.
posted by delmoi at 5:33 PM on February 20, 2006

I've never seen a homely child as a teacher's pet. In public school I saw teachers lavishing attention on good-looking kids and ignoring or even picking on homely ones. Probably why to this day I don't trust someone if they tell me they're a teacher.

Wow, thats harsh.

Actually, studies have shown that even parents are less encouraging to overweight children. I wonder about the causality, though (i.e. parents who don't care let their kids get fat)
posted by delmoi at 5:35 PM on February 20, 2006

Despite his very, very weird and hatefilled public opinions, it's odd how in writing Orson Scott Card could be fairly intelligent and even 'truly' Christian. His book "Speaker for the Dead", the sequel to "Ender's Game", was surprisingly deft in tackling a similar subject: the Ender character became a "Speaker for the Dead", and in one case defended a man who'd died and was known as the village bully.

The character had been treated from childhood as a bad person simply because he was larger than the other kids his age, and how his own marriage was a sham perpetrated by a woman who only married him to punish the person she loved, none of his kids were his own... that this man had been manufactured by the village itself into the very bully they expected him to be because of how he looked- and that when he became violent later in life, they only assured themselves they were correct all along, and never saw how they had made him this way.

It's not a justification of criminal or violent behavior, but explaining and understanding the roots of this- including our own role in making other people bad- is not the same as justifying or excusing. The ugly kids, they get treated badly by everyone- their own parents, teachers, other kids- and we should be surprised that someone who is effectively told their whole life "you're too ugly to be part of the rest of the tribe" isn't so keen on following the proper rules of tribal behavior?
posted by hincandenza at 5:36 PM on February 20, 2006

She's already out of prison and living in Montreal.

because he got kind of fat and grew weird facial hair and she is still pretty.

It also has to with class. Good nutrition and physical habits make you look better. No matter how pretty you start - a few years of poor nutrition and severe drug use and you get ugly fast.
posted by tkchrist at 5:37 PM on February 20, 2006

...why criminals tend to be ugly.

These ugly ones are the ones who got caught, so maybe its losers that tend to be ugly.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:38 PM on February 20, 2006

We're all victims.
posted by 999 at 5:39 PM on February 20, 2006

That's a good point, tk. Poor self-esteem makes you look pretty crappy too.
posted by Hildegarde at 5:40 PM on February 20, 2006

Ugly = Got caught. Case in point is Paul Bernardo, who was passed over as a suspect several times beacause he was handsome, as in "he must be able to get all he wants and doesn't need to rape."
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:43 PM on February 20, 2006

Nearly the last socially acceptable form of bigotry is against the obese. Why aren't we seeing a rash of fattie crimes? And hincandenza, I'd venture it's much more about how you present yourself, doom, gloom and self-hatred loudly pronounced, than what you actually look like that causes the reaction you see. I thought my brother in law was, when I met him, so ooogly that I couldn't imagine my pretty sisterinlaw finding him hot. However, his personality rocks, he's upbeat, fun, funny, smart. Now, all these years later, I can't imagine that I ever found him so unattractive. Similarly, a "hot" looking coworker repulses me, because he's ugly on the inside. Only a tiny percentage of your appeal comes from how you look.
posted by onegreeneye at 5:45 PM on February 20, 2006

Case in point is Paul Bernardo

And Ted Bundy. But you know after he got caught - he got wierd ugly. Like "The hills have eyes" creepy under the surface ugly. It's facinating that women - once Bundy talked to them- tended to see him as misunderstood, slightly cocky and cute. But men saw him as creepy and slightly psycho on first impression.
posted by tkchrist at 5:53 PM on February 20, 2006

Gah what is that, more of the work of Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909) ?

Ugly is a relative concept, depending primarily on contemporary standards suggested by the few who control the artistic expression or the media of the time..for instance this woman painted by Giorgione nearly 500 years ago would look fat and ugly according to some of the today standards.

It may be that derision, ostracization and mistreatment of people considered ugly causes some violent behavior in the ones who are subject to mistreatment : if so the cause is the mistreatment, not the "ugliness":
posted by elpapacito at 5:54 PM on February 20, 2006

onegreeneye - uh... your sister-in-law married your brother-in-law? What the hell kind Peacock family you got going there?
posted by tkchrist at 5:55 PM on February 20, 2006

I always thought Bundy looked creepy. Bleah. The films of him talking, before he was arrested, make him look like a nutter. TK: "The Hills Have Eyes" is frequently referenced in my family. It's so nice to see that someone else does that too!
posted by onegreeneye at 5:55 PM on February 20, 2006

Ugly is a relative concept

Surprisingly it is not. There is cultural variance. But more similarity thatn anything. And againg the variaence is usually the aboration having to do with class and fasion. Overall, physical attactiveness only varies slightly in that we emphasis the attibutes of health, youth, and symetry. Your example would be consistant with that completely. In fact I'd hit it.

Some people think it has to do with it being a reflection evolutionary starndards of health, etc. But the "ideal" has remained farily consistent over the ages.
posted by tkchrist at 5:59 PM on February 20, 2006

JEEBUS! Hit the wrong button. GAH!
posted by tkchrist at 6:02 PM on February 20, 2006

Tk: My sisterinlaw's husband is brotherinlaw? What...once removed or somesuch?
posted by onegreeneye at 6:04 PM on February 20, 2006

About a year ago, I was about to bring this gal on board as a casting director for a film project I was working on, and we started discussing one of the female bad guys. I saw her as a vampy, badass babe, whereas she saw her as kind of dumpy. Her reason? She didn't think it was possible for attractive people to be evil.

We decided not to work with her. I'm not disputing the attractiveness/crime correlation, but here's to hoping that nobody's biases are reinforced by this survey.
posted by brundlefly at 6:20 PM on February 20, 2006

onegreeneye, your sister-in-law is the woman that your brother married (or vice versa). So barring divorce/death and remarriage, your sister-in-law's husband is your brother, not your brother-in-law.

I can't help you on the once removed thing, those have never made sense to me either.

/off topic
posted by macmac at 6:21 PM on February 20, 2006

So are black people almost ten times uglier than white people?

This study is obviously racist.
posted by jewzilla at 6:21 PM on February 20, 2006

"[A] few years of poor nutrition and severe drug use and you get ugly fast."

Severe drug/booze use isn't required but it does help; years of untreated "serotonin deficiency" was worse for me (so one could say I didn't take enough of the right kind of drugs). Other factors I can personally attest to are poor dental care (as in missing or rotted teeth and gum disease, not just lack of braces and caps), the scars from injuries and diseases that richer people are less likely to get (and that they could afford to get dermabraded away), and a certain facial expression that's been described to me as "you look like you expect hostility and trouble" that those born into a higher income bracket don't have.

I wasn't born especially ugly, in my earliest elementary school pictures I was really kinda cute, but my life took its toll -- and the uglier I got the worse my life became so the uglier I got so.... So hincandenza and el papacito have grasped the matter.

At least my face has one benefit: now only drunken stupid fratboys from the suburbs and people who went nuts in prison fuck with me on the street. I'd still trade being scarey-looking in if I could wake up "handsome" or even "striking" though.

(Now maybe I'll go RTFA.)
posted by davy at 6:26 PM on February 20, 2006

"Why aren't we seeing a rash of fattie crimes?"

They hyperventilate during getaways.
posted by klangklangston at 6:35 PM on February 20, 2006

elpacito makes a very important point. while i agree that beauty most certainly affects the way you are treated, beauty is a constantly changing, largely arbitrary concept. The biological factors are undeniable, not set in stone. And if the internet has taught us nothing, its that there's someone out there who thinks you're beautiful.

Just trying to offer a ray of sunshine. Most importantly, these ideas can be changed through art and culture. ps Our current beauty culture is horribly cruel and uncompromising.
posted by es_de_bah at 6:47 PM on February 20, 2006

biological factors link
posted by es_de_bah at 6:51 PM on February 20, 2006

I believe it's a confidence thing. Confident people are generally more successful for a number of reasons, including a willingness to take risks, an ability to hold your own in difficult negotiations or social situations, etc... Ugly people might grow up with a certain lack of confidence isntilled in them from a lifetime or ridicule and loneliness.

obviously, the reverse sometimes happens, too, though. like a "what don't kill you makes you stronger" type of thing.
posted by shmegegge at 6:57 PM on February 20, 2006

It's unrealistic to ever expect "beauty culture" to ever change much. Even babies prefer to be held by people with regular features and good skin.

I did hear years ago about a study which involved career, non-violent, about-to-be-paroled ugly criminals getting makeovers. Plastic surgery, dental work, nutrition and weight loss counselling, new clothes — whatever they needed, they got. And it changed their lives. None of them went back to prison.
posted by orange swan at 6:59 PM on February 20, 2006

Severe drug/booze use isn't required but it does help.

Can't resist posting again for everyone's pleasure Faces of Meth. God, tweakers are funny.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:18 PM on February 20, 2006

your sister-in-law is the woman that your brother married (or vice versa)

Huh? Your sister in law is also your husband (or wife's) sister. Her husband would also be your brother in law.
posted by jrossi4r at 7:27 PM on February 20, 2006

Let me state for the record, Slarty Bartfast, that I ain't THAT ugly. But then I never got heavily into meth either.

On the other hand, a couple beers does make me a little cuter -- I think because it relaxes me.
posted by davy at 7:31 PM on February 20, 2006

James Hibbs in that Faces of Meth link actually looks kinda better in the after picture.
posted by stavrogin at 7:40 PM on February 20, 2006

stavrogin - some people look better after they lose a few pounds...

I don't have anything to add to this thread, but, expectation has a huge impact on how well one does in life.

Then again, the judeochristian devil is classically described as being handsome or beautiful (... and smiling, but damned, but smiling).
posted by PurplePorpoise at 8:12 PM on February 20, 2006

Photographer Taryn Simon's book and exhibit, The Innocents, emphasizes how deceptive photography and other imagery can be when it comes to portraying the "truth" in criminal cases:
During the summer of 2000, I worked for The New York Times Magazine photographing men who were wrongfully convicted, imprisoned, and subsequently freed from death row. After this assignment, I began to investigate photography's role in the criminal justice system. I traveled across the United States photographing and interviewing men and women convicted of crimes they did not commit. In these cases, photography offered the criminal justice system a tool that transformed innocent citizens into criminals, assisted officers in obtaining erroneous eyewitness identifications, and aided prosecutors in securing convictions. The criminal justice system had failed to recognize the limitations of relying on photographic images.
Photography's ability to blur truth and fiction is one of its most compelling qualities. But when misused as part of a prosecutor's arsenal, this ambiguity can have severe, even lethal consequences. Photographs in the criminal justice system, and elsewhere, can turn fiction into fact. As I got to know the men and women in this book, I saw that photography's ambiguity, beautiful in one context, can be devastating in another.
You cannot judge someone's guilt or innocence by their appearance, but our daily dose of visual media constantly teaches us what "pretty" is (and does).

OTOH, looking bad is often visual shorthand for guilt. When someone unattractive is arrested for a crime, it comes as no surprise: just look at them (all proven innocent). BTW, Does anyone's mug shot look good, not to mention court apperances in blaze orange jumpsuits accessorized with handcuffs and leg chains?

When someone attractive (Debra LaFave) commits a crime, it's all the more fascinating because they've done so contrary to all appearances, and to our perceptions.
posted by cenoxo at 8:23 PM on February 20, 2006

Well it depends on the nature of the crime, doesn't it? Sure, petty criminals tend to be ugly. They're malnourished, unhealthy, often drug addicted, and sometimes the end product of generations of poverty.

But what about white collar criminals? I doubt they're ugly....
posted by slatternus at 8:40 PM on February 20, 2006

I work with violent offenders and am thus not buying much in this thread. Here's what I encounter every day: Violent offenders (excluding those high or off psych meds), if you don't look at their bodies covered in another person's blood, in mace, dirt and sometimes K9 bites and slobber, look surprisingly just like everyone else. I'm often told, "You're the first person here who's been nice to me, " followed by conversational tone and demeanor no different than conversations with anyone else. People who commit these crimes are no uglier or weirder seeming than the average Joe. It's about much, much more than looks.

As for ugly folks being unsuccessful, obviously people who believe that haven't been to Microsoft.
posted by onegreeneye at 8:43 PM on February 20, 2006

RTFA and you'll see that this entire thread is off the beam. The variable the authors were tracking was "high school beauty" and its supposed correlate of financial deprivation through diminished earning potential.

Right up front, they state they are controlling for adult beauty, so as to test the hypothesis that people are strongly shaped by their earning potential upon entering the job market. They posit that being shunted aside from earning opportunity contributes to the decision to engage in crime as an adult.

This really isn't very far out at all. It has long been known that one of the most powerful incentives to crime and anti-social behavior is the perception that one is being unfairly and systematically deprived, wronged or discriminated against. For non-psychopaths, uncivil behavior is frequently justified as an attempt to redress wrongs against the individual.

For psychopaths, it's a whole different ball game. They feel entitled to uncivil behavior because of innate superiority and to gratify their compulsion to control and manipulate people. The socially successful psychopath assumes a position of power and authority. The socially unsuccessful turn to crime and abusing others.
posted by warbaby at 9:21 PM on February 20, 2006

Missed it on preview but white collar criminals tend to be disprortionately psychopathic compated to blue collar criminals - which isn't saying much since the white collar population as a whole is more psychopathic than the blue collar population.

Likewise, the examples of the "pretty people" criminals above are all outstandingly psychopathic.
posted by warbaby at 9:24 PM on February 20, 2006

posted by carsonb at 9:32 PM on February 20, 2006

Love makes you beautiful. I've seen many people who were technically ugly come off as attractive because they just felt good about themselves - and that usually came from being loved and reinforced as a child. I've always maintained that birth does not make one human - it's love. We are all born as animals with an innate instinct to survive. We need to be taught to be civilized and work within society because it's not our natural state. When you get a chance do a little research on the early childhood of guys like Saddam Hussein and Joseph Stalin. Unwanted children are the source of much of what we call evil and "ugliness" in this world.
posted by any major dude at 10:26 PM on February 20, 2006

I've always maintained that birth does not make one human - it's love.

That made me tear up a little. Seriously.

I'm so stealing it.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:36 PM on February 20, 2006

To expand on what warbaby has said, this is more of an economic study, not a psychological study. The authors examined how high school beauty affected "human capital formation" in school which ultimately influences the propensity to commit lesser crimes (property damage, burglary, robbery, assault, and selling drugs). These are crimes that for the most part are associated with an economic component. While we've been discussing major violent crimes like murder, rape, and kidnapping, those have a much stronger psychological component and for that reason were probably purposely not used for this study. And while white collar crime would have been a strong marker in this type of study, the authors were only able to track adolescents between grade 7 to 12 for 7 years so the top age would be around 25-26, below the age commonly associated with white collar individuals.

What I found interesting in the study was the gender component:

These results suggest that the extent of beauty in high school has an impact on human capital formation in high school for female students, while the same is not the case for male students.

We also find evidence to indicate that very attractive females receive favorable treatment from the criminal justice system. Specifically, conditional on criminal activity, very attractive females are less likely to be detained, arrested or convicted. No unfavorable treatment is detected for unattractive individuals, or males.

Overall, the study seems to show that gender is a factor when it comes to the impact of high school beauty on propensity to commit these types of crimes but only for attractive individuals, or specifically attractive females. At the same time, attractive females are less likely to be detained/arrested/convicted so maybe it all balances out.
posted by junesix at 10:39 PM on February 20, 2006

junesix: Regarding gender, female offenders - in my experience with them - are for the most part much higher drama and thus whatever is gross about them is all the more so with the drama factor. An addicted male may pick his abscesses while speaking to you (gross, but you can look away) while a cracked out female with raging staph infection all over her face and weeping sores will gesticulate madly with her hands while sobbing and screaming, thus spitting all over you, and basically spreading that which is nasty about her all over you. Maybe attractive women get preferential treatment because male cops can sympathise with a crying woman more easily than a crying man. But unattractive women in the criminal system are unattractive in some really horrible ways. Men, not as much. Don't even get me started on the intimate hygiene factor.
posted by onegreeneye at 12:10 AM on February 21, 2006

We love you, Davy.
posted by Hildegarde at 4:13 AM on February 21, 2006

I've always maintained that birth does not make one human - it's love. We are all born as animals with an innate instinct to survive. We need to be taught to be civilized and work within society because it's not our natural state.

[gazes adoringly at any major dude]
posted by orange swan at 5:17 AM on February 21, 2006

The husbands of very beautiful women belong to the criminal classes

- Oscar Wilde

So there's hope for you ugly thugs yet.
posted by longbaugh at 5:34 AM on February 21, 2006

To Hildegarde, carsonb, and others pointing out history's true crime hotties such as Bundy, Scott Peterson and the photogenic Canadian couple who raped and killed girls (oh, and can we add O.J. while we're at it? Maybe Jeffrey Dahmer?): I had the same thought as soon as I read the article's headline.

...But then maybe the reason we all know and remember some crimes/criminals is because these criminals got more media attention for that reason: Telegenic criminals make good copy. Perhaps drab criminals really are are a dime a dozen--so when an attractive person [whom we may subconsciously or consciously admire on that basis] commits some horrible crime we are shocked because, wow!-- who expects such a nice looking young man (or woman) to ...etc. etc.

Ok, surely we'd have heard about large-scale or particularly sensational serial killings whether the defendent was as handsome as Bundy or as dumpy as Gacy. But there are murders committed every day, in every state, that we'll never hear about. Husbands (and wives) kill their spouses (children, etc.) every day, and most of these crimes won't make national news. Would any of us living outside of Northern California have even heard of Scott and Laci Peterson were they not attractive? (not to mention white, middle-class, etc....)

I agree with those who suspect that the findings of this study may be more accurate if limited to "blue collar" criminals and smaller scale property crimes, i.e. robbery, drug dealing, etc. rather than the more sadistic homicides and personal crimes. And also what warbaby said... Good looks may even feed the psychopath's "innate superiority" complex.
posted by applemeat at 6:35 AM on February 21, 2006

shady characters
posted by poweredbybeard at 8:41 AM on February 21, 2006

also, "technically ugly" is a nonsense phrase.
posted by poweredbybeard at 8:42 AM on February 21, 2006

Hildegarde, I swear when I saw that picture, my first thought was, "Prince William? Oh yeah, one of the tabloids at the grocery store said he'd eloped. But I don't get it."
posted by straight at 9:55 AM on February 21, 2006

Hildegarde: That's exactly who I thought of when I read this post.

Don't forget Robert Chambers, aka the Preppy Killer.
posted by SisterHavana at 1:38 PM on February 21, 2006

I was thinking about this topic yesterday, noticing how many hot Olympians there are. There's definitely a correlation between success and beauty, and they likely feed off each other. That being said, I think the vast majority of people are born beautiful, and it's their environment that makes them ugly over time.
posted by jimmy76 at 2:04 PM on February 21, 2006

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