Mistaken Identity May Occur Because We Rarely Remember Ugly People

Sexy MugA sexy criminal?

Photo: Henry_Spencer/Flickr

Study after study shows eyewitness testimony is terribly unreliable:Via Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average:

Between 1989 and 2007, for instance, 201 prisoners in the United States were freed through the use of DNA evidence. Of these, 77 per cent had been mistakenly identified by eyewitnesses.

Why is that?

Here’s one interesting theory: we’re much better at remembering attractive faces…

“In every case,” the authors concluded, “a higher percentage of subjects who perceived beauty in a face were subsequently able to recognise the face.”

…and criminals are ugly:

This may help explain why it can be difficult to identify criminals. When we speak of “the ugly face of crime,” it is not entirely a metaphor: recent research indicates that criminals are, by and large, uglier than the rest of us.

Two professors, Naci Mocan of the Louisiana State University and Erdal Tekin of Georgia State University, analysed data from a federally sponsored survey of fifteen thousand 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.” The professors found that the long-term consequences of being young and ugly were small but consistent.

“Unattractive individuals commit more crime in comparison to average-looking ones,” they concluded, “and very attractive individuals commit less crime in comparison to those who are average-looking”

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