Physical Attractiveness, Dangerousness, and the Canadian Criminal Code1


  • 1

    This research was funded by the Centre of Criminology, University of Toronto, through the Contributions Program of the Solicitor General, Canada. The first author was supported by a doctoral fellowship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. We would like to thank David Town for his assistance in conducting this study and Nancy DeCourville, Anthony Doob, Richard Rogers, Michael Ross, David Sherry, and Mark Zanna for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript.


The Canadian Criminal Code contains provisions for labelling certain convicted criminal offenders as Dangerous Offenders. Sentences of indefinite duration are usually imposed on these offenders in place of the fixed sentences that would normally be imposed. The present study examined one potential source of bias in the use of the Dangerous Offender provisions, the physical attractiveness of an offender. Two hundred and eighty-four adults were given information about a hypothetical offender, including a facial photograph and a conviction record. They responded to questions about the dangerousness of the offender, including questions drawn from the Dangerous Offender criteria. Subjects perceived physically unattractive sexual offenders as significantly more likely to fulfill the Dangerous Offender criteria than average-looking and attractive sexual offenders. In particular, unattractive sexual offenders were seen as significantly less likely to restrain their behavior in the future. In light of the fact that there is currently no evidence that physical attractiveness is a valid predictor of sexual offender recidivism, this finding provides grounds to question whether the Dangerous Offender provisions of the Canadian Criminal Code, as they now stand, can be administered impartially.