What is Criminality?

While the term criminality is used often in criminology to refer to actual criminal characteristics of a person (i.e., propensity evidence such as past criminal record, etc.), we use the term criminality to refer to the extent to which a personís appearance triggers stereotypes about criminals.  Research on facial stereotypes and their effects on social and cognitive processes has been predominantly limited to the attractive and babyface stereotypes (Zebrowitz, 1998).  While we know that people are quick to make attributions based on appearance (Berscheid & Walster, 1974; Berry & McArthur, 1985; Bull & Rumsey, 1988;  Zebrowitz, 1998; Zebrowitz & Collins, 1997), little work to date has evaluated the stereotype of criminality.  Stereotypes of criminal appearance are important not simply for broadening our understanding of the link between face perception and trait attributions, but for the practical applications in the legal system.  Eyewitnesses, lawyers, judges, jurors and police officers make decisions directly related to interactions with individuals who may or may not have committed a crime.  Criminal stereotypes introduce a bias into these processes that negatively affect peopleís lives and affect the course of law enforcement activities.