If the face fits: predicting future promotions from police cadets’ facial traits


Using archival police academy photographs, we use a two-phase experiment to evaluate the impact of facial traits on future promotional success. First, respondents (n=507) view randomly selected photographs of cadets (observations=15,669) and evaluate them for facial traits and perceived leadership ability. Second, respondents are presented with random dyads of differentially promoted recruits, and choose one based on the highest perceived leadership ability. We compare those leadership evaluations to the subsequent promotional success of the cadets featured in the photographs (observations=5739). We employ Bayesian multilevel modeling throughout both phases. Facial traits are the primary driver of subject perceptions of leadership ability, and those perceptions successfully predict promotional success later in the cadets’ careers. When selecting for leadership potential based on police cadet photographs, respondents predict correct promotional choices at levels well above chance as measured by an AUC score of .70. Further, respondents’ evaluations successfully discriminate both between no promotion and lieutenant promotion, and sergeant versus lieutenant promotions.

Journal of Experimental Criminology
Scott M. Mourtgos
Scott M. Mourtgos
Ph.D. Candidate

I am a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of Utah and a National Institute of Justice LEADS scholar. I study policing and criminal justice policy. I am particularly interested in public perceptions of police use-of-force and the criminal justice system, investigative techniques in sexual assault cases, and crime deterrence policy.