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This is the blog for the Psychology of Attractiveness Podcast, a monthly science show that covers the most interesting and cutting edge research on the psychology of attraction and relationships.

The podcast is produced by Dr. Rob Burriss, a research fellow at Northumbria University in Newcastle, UK.

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Monday, 8 March 2010

March 2010: Tyler Stillman on IDing violent criminals from photos

I speak to Tyler Stillman of Florida State University about whether we can identify violent criminals just by looking at their faces. We also find out whether electoral candidates who appear more powerful or trustworthy can expect more votes, and how a woman's menstrual cycle can affect her preferences for hairy men.

Download the MP3

Schwarzenegger's masculine looks probably did him no harm when it came to running for governor of California.

The articles covered in the show:

Rantala, M. J., Pölkki, M., & Rantala, L. M. (2010). Preference for human male body hair changes across the menstrual cycle and menopause. Behavioral Ecology, 21(2), 419-423. Read summary

Stillman, T. F., Maner, J. K., & Baumeister, R. F. (In press). A thin slice of violence: distinguishing violent from nonviolent sex offenders at a glance. Evolution and Human Behavior. Read summary

Rule, N. O., Arnbady, N., Adams, R. B., Ozono, H., Nakashima, S., Yoshikawa, S., et al. (2010). Polling the Face: Prediction and Consensus Across Cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 98(1), 1-15. Read summary

I talked this month about Francis Galton, pioneer physiognomist and creator of composite portraiture. That's when you combine two or more facial photos into a single image. His photography skills are pretty amazing when you consider that he was working 125 years ago and was able to come up with some convincing results.


Francis Galton's composites of violent criminals. The images on the top are the real criminals, and the ones on the bottom are composites.


The image above shows images of Gordon Brown (a), that have been composited using Galton's method (b) and the modern method (c). In Galton's method, the images are rotated and scaled so that the eyes lie on top of each other before being combined. In the modern, computerised method, the locations of over 150 points are averaged before the images are combined. This gives a much clearer image. Galton's more primitive method could explain why he failed to find a 'criminal type', or it could just be because criminals don't look that different to everybody else.

Physiognomy is currently undergoing a resurgence, although most researchers study whether attractiveness, or personality traits such as trustworthiness, can be detected from faces. Perhaps because physiognomy is so closely associated with Galton, who founded eugenics and held typically 19th century views on race, attempts to extend study into areas such as criminality are often met with some resistance.