Sunday, March 27, 2011

Judging A Book By Its Cover

People can identify criminals by their photos. The magazine carrying this has not been my favorite over the years - it has been the "where's the beef?" source for psychology* - but I read up on this columnist and he seems to be the real deal.
In this blog, I have repeatedly emphasized the fact that virtually all "stereotypes" are empirically true. If they weren't true, they would not be stereotypes in the first place. To my knowledge, all of the very, very few stereotypes that are not empirically true, for some reason, have to do with people's appearance. Hence, it is not true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it is not true that beauty is only skin-deep.Another "stereotype" about physical appearance that is not empirically true is "you can't judge a book by its cover." In previous posts, I have explained that women can tell which men would make good fathers and which men would make bad fathers simply by looking at them. And people can tell who are altruistic and who are egoistic simply by looking at a 30-second video clip without sound.
The article lets you try your hand at it as well. I did very well (10 of 13) on my definites, but once I had put someone into the indefinite category did no better than chance.

* Rather like Discover has been for science in general, and Omni before that. High on speculation about new developments and discoveries, before they are solidly established.


terri said...

Hmm...I successfully picked 11 of the 16 criminals...almost got 12 but then was uncertain and reversed my decision. That was guy #3 whose smirk in the photo annoyed me and seemed cocky...but when I asked myself if it was criminal cocky, or college boy cocky...I thought it might be too hard to tell the difference.

Turns out #3 was a rapist. So, yeah...definitely criminal cocky.

An interesting article...though I then wondered about the 4 guys I labeled as criminal just by looking at them, and was obviously wrong least so far. Maybe they'll eventually become criminals and I will prove to have unbounded powers of prescience! ;-)

Still....great that we can rely on our intuition mostly, but in the cases when we get it wrong, things get messy.

Texan99 said...

I got it 75% right, so better than chance, but not terrific. It seems I can identify assaulters very well, arsonists and drug dealers so-so, and rapists not at all well.