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PLoS One. 2012;7(6):e37253. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0037253. Epub 2012 Jun 4.

Do characteristics of faces that convey trustworthiness and dominance underlie perceptions of criminality?

Author information

  • 1College of Medicine, Biological Sciences and Psychology, University of Leicester, Leicester, United Kingdom. hf49@le.ac.uk

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

This study tested whether the 2D face evaluation model proposed by Oosterhof and Todorov can parsimoniously account for why some faces are perceived as more criminal-looking than others. The 2D model proposes that trust and dominance are spontaneously evaluated from features of faces. These evaluations have adaptive significance from an evolutionary standpoint because they indicate whether someone should be approached or avoided.

METHOD:

Participants rated the emotional state, personality traits, and criminal appearance of faces shown in photographs. The photographs were of males and females taken under naturalistic conditions (i.e., police mugshots) and highly controlled conditions. In the controlled photographs, the emotion display of the actor was systematically varied (happy expression, emotionally neutral expression, or angry expression).

RESULTS:

Both male and female faces rated high in criminal appearance were perceived as less trustworthy and more dominant in police mugshots as well as in photographs taken under highly controlled conditions. Additionally, emotionally neutral faces were deemed as less trustworthy if they were perceived as angry, and more dominant if they were morphologically mature. Systematically varying emotion displays also affected criminality ratings, with angry faces perceived as the most criminal, followed by neutral faces and then happy faces.

CONCLUSION:

The 2D model parsimoniously accounts for criminality perceptions. This study extends past research by demonstrating that morphological features that signal high dominance and low trustworthiness can also signal high criminality. Spontaneous evaluations regarding criminal propensity may have adaptive value in that they may help us to avoid someone who is physically threatening. On the other hand, such evaluations could inappropriately influence decision making in criminal identification lineups. Hence, additional research is needed to discover whether and how people can avoid making evaluations regarding criminality from a person's facial appearance.

PMID:
22675479
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC3366989
Free PMC Article
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