A thin slice of violence: Distinguishing violent from nonviolent sex offenders at a glance

Tyler F. Stillman*, Jon K. Maner, Roy F. Baumeister

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


A growing body of literature in evolutionary psychology suggests that person perception processes are adaptively tuned. The current investigation tested the hypothesis that people would be able to detect a propensity for violence in other people, based only on a brief glance at their face. Participants estimated the propensity for violence in 87 registered sex offenders after seeing photos of them for 2 s each. Estimated likelihood of violence was significantly related to actual violent history, suggesting that violent tendencies can be accurately inferred from a brief look at a person's face. Cues indicative of high masculinity and high levels of male sex hormones (heavy brow, general facial masculinity, high physical strength, younger age) were related to accurate judgments. Other cues such as facial emotion and good grooming were not associated with an actual history of violence, but nevertheless correlated with raters' judgments. Although there were no sex differences in accuracy, on average women thought targets were more violent than men did. Findings speak to the accuracy and efficiency with which people can detect potential threats to physical well-being.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)298-303
Number of pages6
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2010


  • Aggression
  • Face processing
  • Facial morphology
  • Person perception
  • Thin slices
  • Violence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


Dive into the research topics of 'A thin slice of violence: Distinguishing violent from nonviolent sex offenders at a glance'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this