Hypothetical Sentencing Decisions Are Associated With Actual Capital Punishment Outcomes: The Role of Facial Trustworthiness

John Paul Wilson, Nicholas O. Rule

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

17 Scopus citations


Recent research has highlighted a relationship between perceptions of trustworthiness from faces and capital sentencing outcomes. Here, we extended those findings by replicating the relationship between trustworthiness and the death penalty among a new sample of targets convicted of capital murder in Arkansas and by demonstrating that facial trustworthiness guides naive sentencing decisions. First, trustworthiness differentiated convicted murderers sentenced to life from those sentenced to death using a novel stimulus population. Next, we found experimental evidence that people used inferences of trustworthiness from faces when making hypothetical capital sentencing judgments for noncriminal targets presented as murderers. Finally, naive participants viewing photographs of actual convicted criminals without any additional information allocated hypothetical sentences that matched those that were actually received in court. Facial trustworthiness, but not other inferences (i.e., Afrocentricity, attractiveness, and maturity), accounted for this relationship. These data therefore suggest that perceptions of trustworthiness guide individuals’ decisions about legal punishment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)331-338
Number of pages8
JournalSocial Psychological and Personality Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2016



  • face perception
  • judgment
  • legal processes
  • trustworthiness

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