Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Do good-looking people get away with murder? Statistically speaking, yes they do. Or at least, they're less likely to do hard time than similarly charged bad guys who commit the additional offense of being ugly.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that criminals who are perceived as handsome routinely receive lighter sentences than those who are deemed unattractive.
We're all familiar with the stereotype of the leggy blonde batting her eyes to get out of a speeding ticket from the poor, hapless, star-struck cop.
However, researchers have proven that lonely state troopers aren't the only ones swayed by beauty. A landmark 1980 study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, and numerous studies since, reveal that good-looking law-breakers not only get shorter sentences, but they are twice as likely to avoid jail time than their less genetically-advantaged criminal counterparts.
I guess the thought of Prince Charming soiling his cape on the communal prison toilet doesn't sit well with juries.
But our bias for beauty shouldn't come as a surprise. We humans are visual by nature. Literally.
A couple million turns of the Earth and a few rounds of evolutionary bingo have taught us that seeing is believing, and that when stuff looks good, it probably is good.
Ripe, shiny fruit tastes better than rotting rubbish.
Women with clear skin and a perfect waist-to-hip ratio make healthy babies.
And tall men with beefy biceps are good protectors.
Our preference for pretty is the direct result of ancestors who spent centuries honing their visual assessment skills to survive.
So yes, humans are a shallow bunch, but we come by it naturally.
Visual images always take precedent over other information, because what we see feels more accurate and real. So when bad deeds conflict with a pretty face, our natural instinct is to discount the facts and believe the beauty. It's almost like our brains can't sync up a charming smile with evil and malice.
Which is why we continue to be surprised when good-looking athletes or actors fall from grace.
Yet, as recent events involving a certain white-Bronco-driving, former pro athlete are proving, good looks can't mask character flaws forever.
It's hardly surprising that a man who was paid millions to charge through opponents on the football field and plow through fellow commuters in rental car commercials believes that his greatness cuts through the confines of the law. After all, the very nature of his job was to mow down other people as though they weren't even human.
But now that he's sporting a middle-aged paunch, and there's audiotape evidence added into the mix, the former football star, whose name I prefer not to print, may finally realize that blazing through defensive linemen and the airport crowd doesn't put him above the law. Well, at least not more than once.
It's amazing how unattractive a man becomes when most of the country believes he murdered his ex-wife.
I'm going to go out on a limb here, but I'm guessing the next jury won't be too unsettled at the thought of a grinning Heisman winner shucking his Bruno Maglis at the jailhouse door and donning an orange jumpsuit to bang out license plates alongside all the rest of the sweaty perps.
We may be more lenient with the pretty people. But as Mr. Lean, and ultimately Mean, is quickly discovering, with enough evidence we can overcome our biological bias for beauty.
Going through life as one of the beautiful people is a fine thing indeed. But if your actions don't match your pretty face, the ugly always catches up with you. When people see the light of truth behind the charming smile, crowds who were once enamored by a trademark TV grin are now repulsed by the evil smirk of reality.
Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally recognized speaker and the author of "Forget Perfect" and "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear." Contact her or join her interactive blog at www.ForgetPerfect.com.