Facial appearance distinguishes leaders from followers and is associated with sentencing outcomes among youth criminal group members

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Description: Youth criminal groups often involve leaders and followers, but it is not currently understood how delinquent peer groups form around leaders. Perceptual psychology has shown that non-criminal leaders display specific facial cues indicative of leadership status. We tested whether facial cues were similarly associated with leadership among youth criminal groups and involved with downstream sentencing outcomes. Study 1 revealed that leaders of youth criminal groups were perceived as more dominant than their followers. In Study 2, participants were tasked with selecting the leaders from their groups and were more likely to (correctly) select targets perceived as more dominant but also (incorrectly) select targets perceived as more trustworthy. In Study 3, we examined whether facial impressions were associated with downstream sentencing outcomes. Perceptions of trustworthiness were associated with reduced sentencing, but dominance was unrelated. The results underscore the role that facial appearance plays in youth criminal group formation and sentencing.

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