Thinking that you are “good-looking” might be a risk factor for crime, according to new research published in the journal Crime & Delinquency. The study found that youth who perceived themselves as more attractive were more likely to engage in offending behaviors.
“People are judged on their appearance all the time. After all, it is usually the first thing we notice about others,” said study author Thomas J. Mowen, an associate professor at Bowling Green State University.
“And while there is a decently established body of literature on the outcomes of physical attractiveness, there (was) virtually nothing on the link between offending and attractiveness. Given how much physical attractiveness is related to other life experiences – like employment, wages, life satisfaction, dating experiences – it seemed like it should be related to offending.”
For their study, Mowen and his colleagues analyzed eight waves of panel data from the Adolescent Academic Context Study, a which collected data from middle and high school students over the course of four years. As part of the survey, the participants rated the extent to which they thought they were good looking. The participants were also asked to report any deviant behaviors they had engaged in, such as painting graffiti, lying to their parents, getting in a serious fight, stealing, or selling drugs. The final sample for the current study included 783 youth.
Based on general strain theory, the researchers had hypothesized that greater perceptions of attractiveness would be associated with decreased levels of offending. According to the theory, when an individual’s effort to achieve a socially accepted goal is thwarted, it may lead to deviant behavior. People will often act out or otherwise engage in crime as a result of this disjuncture between what is desired and what can be obtained through acceptable means.
“From the perspective of general strain, less attractive adolescents could find it harder to earn or sustain valued friendships during a period of life in which the peer group is a key factor to everyday social life,” the researchers explained.
But Mowen and his colleagues found an opposite pattern of results. Greater perceptions of attractiveness were associated with increased levels of general deviance, violence, theft, property destruction, and drug sales.
“Counter to our expectations, youth who rated themselves as better looking committed more crime than youth who rated themselves as less good looking,” Mowen told PsyPost. “Generally speaking, these findings suggest that being ‘good looking’ may be a risk factor for offending!”
But why is there a link between self-perceived attractiveness and deviant behavior?
“A great deal of offending is what criminologists call ‘groupy,'” Mowen explained. “That is, it occurs within group settings. For example, youth who destroy property tend to do it with other youth. So part of our findings are probably explained by the fact that there is an overlap between youth perceptions of attractiveness and popularity. In turn, youth who are more popular are probably more likely to be in group settings and have the opportunity to commit crime.”
“We have a follow-up study coming out soon!” he added.
The study, “Self-Perceptions of Attractiveness and Offending During Adolescence“, was authored by Thomas J. Mowen, John H. Boman, IV, Samantha Kopf, and Margaret Z. Booth.