Between 1989 and 2007, 201 prisoners in the United States were freed through the use of DNA evidence. Shockingly, 77% of the prisoners turned out to have been mistakenly identified by eyewitnesses. So how did these poor sods end up in jail in the first place?


One interesting theory is that it might have to do with how attractive the suspect is. Studies have shown that it's easier to remember attractive faces. And the last time we checked, most criminal mugshots aren't exactly what you'd call flattering (see actor Matthew Fox's mugshot above).

Author Joseph T. Hallinan shares a little more on this theory via his book Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average:
“In every case,” the authors concluded, “a higher percentage of subjects who perceived beauty in a face were subsequently able to recognize the face.”

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, analyzed 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”
Obviously, there are flaws to this theory. The idea that an attractive person is less likely to commit a crime than an unattractive one sounds pretty far-fetched. What would make more sense is that better looking people are more likely to get away with more crimes, since nobody wants to put a pretty boy in jail.