Current Psychological Reviews

, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp 269-281

First online:

Physical appearance and criminality

  • Ray BullAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, North East London Polytechnic

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Throughout the history of psychology the controversial belief in a relationship between physical appearance and criminality has reared its ugly head! Though modern criminologists do not believe that criminals belong to a single physical type, it is possible that the general public, the police, juries, and so forth, may believe in such relationships and act accordingly. The present paper describes some investigations of the extent to which the general public and the police believe that ‘the face fits the crime’. Studies of the facial appearance of prison inmates are reviewed, as is research on the effects of plastic surgery on prison recidivism rates. The relationship between children’s physical appearance and behavioural abnormalities is discussed, as is the literature on the way that we react to children as a function of their facial appearance. Studies concerning society’s reactions to facial disfigurement are presented to show that there may be some support for Cavior, Hayes and Cavior’s (1975) view that ‘low physical attractiveness contributes to careers of deviancy’.