Physical Attractiveness and Criminal Behavior

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Physical unattractiveness, deformity, and disfigurement have been associated with evil since antiquity. In the Iliad, Homer described the wicked Thersites as possessing thin hair over a "misshapen head," with one blinking eye and a lame leg. Physiognomy (the "science" of reading personality characteristics into facial features) traces its practice to Homer's Greece. When Socrates was convicted for heresy and the corruption of youth in the fifth century B.C., a physiognomist charged that his face betrayed a brutal disposition. Greek culture embraced the notion that mind and body were interconnected; if a sound mind went together with a sound body, the implication was that a twisted mind resided in a deformed body. Aristotle confirmed this view in his Metaphysics when he reasoned that the essence of the body is contained in the soul. These opinions were ensconced into law in medieval Europe. Among those accused of demonic possession, ecclesiastical edicts interpreted large warts and moles on the skin as physical signs of the entry point of the devil into the soul (Einstadter and Henry 1995). Secular law directed jurists to convict the uglier of two people who were under equal suspicion for a crime (Wilson and Herrnstein 1985). In an echo of these sentiments some years later, Shakespeare's Cassius, in Julius Caesar (Act I, Scene II), is judged a dangerous man by his "lean and hungry look." The link between unattractiveness and criminal behavior remained alive and well in 20th-century American popular culture. In his famous comic strip and in the movies it inspired, cartoonist Chester Gould sharply contrasted the square-jawed, clean-cut good looks of detective Dick Tracy with cutthroat criminals like the flat-headed "Flattop," the pointy-snouted "Mole," the wrinkle-cheeked "Pruneface," and the big-bottomed "Pear Shape." Hollywood imitated science in Johnny Handsome (1989), a feature film about a robber with grotesque facial deformities who reforms after receiving...
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