Are people that are "stupid looking" really stupid?

Sometimes you see people or pictures of people that are look as though they are stupid and oftentimes it turns out to be true (Richard Reid, the would-be shoe bomber comes to mind). In a general sense, can you gauge a person’s intelligence by their looks?

It seems like such a study could be fairly easy to conduct. Show people or pictures of people to a large panel that will guess at their intelligence, then compare the results to the IQ scores. Such a study must have been done but what were the results?

If there is a syndrome that people who are stupid also look stupid then what is the cause of it? Are there identifiable characteristics?

I’m not interested in some isolated cases of people that looked stupid who were in fact geniuses. We know cases are out there. I’m looking for generalities.

I don’t have any expertise in this area, and it’s a sensitive topic, but I would say that, yes, sometimes you can tell.

First, you’ve got Down syndrome, which has recognizable physical characteristics. I believe that there are other syndromes with mental components (fetal alcohol, microcephaly) that similarly have physical signs.

And then there’s the vacant, open-mouthed look that gives rise to the terms “slack-jawed yokel” and “mouth breather”, neither one of which I’d use, but which I recognize and associate with low intelligence. I’d be interested in seeing what one of our board physicians has to say about this.

Is there any link between cranium volume and inteligence?

One problem is defining ‘stupid’. Is it just IQ tests? How about reciting pi to a zillion digits? Vocabulary? Musical talents?

An autistic person might be able to recite pi to the 100,000th digit and recite all of the R’s from the local phonebook but not be able to tie their own shoes. Hence the term “idiot savant”.

A friend of mine has a son with Aspergers Disorder and he’s not quite that bad…at 10, he can hold an intelligent conversation with an adult on certain subjects but ranges from 1st grade to 12th grade on his school subjects.

He looks just like a normal kid though.

My best friend has an elaborate theory that peoples’ faces actually do reflect their personalities, because certain muscles in your face get worked out and more defined over time depending on what sort of facial expression you have most often, and therefore after a while, your face will take on the characteristics of your mood. By this logic, someone who spends a lot of time with their jaw hanging open in an expression of dumbfounded bewilderment will eventually look like the slack-jawed dumbass (Napoleon Dynamite comes to mind.) By the same token, someone who has a peacable and good-natured personality will often look that way simply because they spend a lot of time with their eyes wide open and their mouth in a smile and generally take on that apearance. And someone who’s pissed off all the time will wear a constant scowl by the time he is an old man because his facial muscles will eventually just conform to that shape.

I’m not sure if there’s any scientific basis to this theory but it holds true surprisingly often.

In my personal anecdotal experience people with heads that seem small or have an overhanging bulnging forehead with protruding eyebrows (what’s the term for this) seem to have a tendency towards making rather retarded life decisions and generally do stupid things, don’t educate themselves as much, read less, etc… Now, this can be due to prejudice on my part, so I’d love to see a study on this.

Sometimes facial features can reflect habits, but I find that looks can often be very misleading. I recall one man I know, the husband of a friend. He always looks like he’s just been in a bar fight–something about his face, hair, and teeth put together–and he doesn’t look any too bright. In fact he is a perfectly nice, highly intelligent engineer who enjoys chess. You’d never know it from looking at him, though.

When you’re talking about certain syndromes (Down’s, Fragile X, FAS) yes.
Otherwise, no.

It’s like asking if you can tell whether people are nice by looking at them. Sometimes you can, because it’s obvious. Sometimes people project a false image because it suits them to appear in a cerain way, sometimes an unfortunate act of nature conceals what’s really going on underneath.

I’m going with ‘yes’. Just enough of the time for it to remain controversial though.

This woman is a perfect example of someone I would typify as “stupid looking.” The slack jaw, the vacant stare . . . the general appearance of someone going through life on auto-pilot.

I’ll admit, I have a tendancy to pre-judge people’s intelligence by how they look. Sometimes I’m wrong, but there is a certain “look” which is very often accompanied by a dull wit.

Fetal alcohol syndrome screws up a lot of faces along with screwing up the cranial contents.

I’ve known many rather ugly people who were quite bright. But if certain features appear on people, especially those correlating with Downs or FAS, decreased intellectual ability is also likely.

I’ve been wondering about this too. Specifically, I have been wondering some people associate buck teeth with stupidity (as in, for example, the character Zero in Beetle Bailey–Mort Walker wants to emphasize the guy is a dumbass, so gives him buck teeth.) What is the source of this stereotype?

Other than the specific physical conditions mentioned before, I’m inclined to believe that a non-alert mind doesn’t maintain the muscles of the face. There might not be enough CPU cycles to attend to it. Or, the person may not have gone through the self-conscious period as a youngster where s/he becomes concerned with facial expression and its impression on others, and develops certain habits and avoidances.

One “stupid” facial type is just slack-muscled, and if you want to appear dumb, just try slacking everything. Even without letting your mouth hang open, check your appearance in a mirror.

This involves the expression of the face, not the structure, so that’s two different kinds of appearance.

Very drunk or depressed or tired people might show that type of expression.

The buck teeth might be related to teeth being visible with letting the lips or mouth slump open.

You do get fooled by appearances sometimes. I’d like to know of studies, too.

The buck teeth phenomenon is also associated with aristocratic types in England too - Camilla Parker-Bowles and Prince William for instance - which gives the upper class a typical ‘horsey’ face-shape. This is put down to inbreeding, as in the case of country hicks/bumpkins. Could this be the connection?

Having said that, I don’t really think a useful correlation could be found between appearance and intelligence. Links between criminality and body shape are considered misguided these days, and there are too many factors both societal and biological to take into account. After all, the lifelong perception of someone as ‘stupid-looking’ will have an effect on the psyche of that unfortunate, perhaps deterring them from school and so on, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy…

omg its looks my passport photo.

but seriously, I doubt whether anyone looks good on a police photograph after a rough night in the cells. Take the same woman, dress her up with some makeup and she would pass for average.

Having met a few retarded* guys, the thing I have noticed is that they smile a lot and the lines and muscles in their face seem to have become accustomed to smiling a lot.

  • Yes, yes, I know this isn’t a proper term–but I’m not sure what their diseases were and this is a good catch-all for “suffering from a genetic disorder that debilitates mental growth.” Not my fault people started using it as an insult.

Phrenologists tried to answer this question in the 19-th century, but largely failed.

Argent Towers, I have found your friend’s theory on: “you get the face you deserve” to be correct and helpful, too.

Another useful searchterm might be Physiognomy.

I think that in a few cases, we’re talking about people who exhibit physical traits that you associate with mental retardation, but in most cases, we’re talking about people who look to you as if they belong to a lower class (and you’re probably going to correlate low class with low intelligence, or poor education). Class markers could be any number of things, including clothing, hair style, posture, diction/accents, general manners, etc. I stopped being a “mouth breather” as a kid not because I suddenly got smarter one day, but because my parents got on my case about it, told me that it made me look like a hick, and thus, an idiot. So my guess is that this correlation between stupid people and stupid-looking people is an optical illusion. If you saw Noam Chomsky in a NASCAR T-shirt and a mullet, I bet he’d appear at least 10-20% dumber to you than he would in his usual nerdy professor garb.

If that woman from Utah had a beard, she’d look like Slavoj Zizek on a bad day…