Let’s be honest: Police suspects fascinate many people.
Why do they do what they do? How did they get to the point where they’re sitting handcuffed in the back of a police car? Who are they, really? And what goes on inside their heads?
It’s that last question – What goes on inside the minds of those arrested? – that inspired us to do a little research.
We examined over 30,000 mugshots from across the country and ran them through Microsoft Cognitive Services, a tool that can detect emotions. It told us which emotions appeared most frequently across all mugshots; which states had the happiest, saddest, or most surprised arrestees; and which alleged crimes (from DUIs to kidnapping) were mostly likely inspire specific emotions.
So what are people thinking and feeling when they’re arrested? Which type of suspected offender is most likely to be happy about her supposed crimes or angry about his arrest? And which states have the saddest arrestees? The results might surprise you.
Top Mugshot Emotions
When we analyzed the emotions in over 30,000 mugshots, what kinds of feelings did we find? The results were wide-ranging. Sadness, contempt, disgust, anger, fear, and surprise all showed up. However, the most common emotion by far – with 59 percent of mugshots showing it to some degree – was one you might not expect: happiness.
It turns out many American arrestees are happy campers, at least while they’re in front of the camera.
When it comes to mugshots, smiles aren’t hard to come by. And, it turns out, some arrestees are much more likely than others to flash the camera a smile. Suspected offenders in North Carolina, for instance, show happiness much more often than offenders in New Mexico. Nevada (Vegas, baby!) inspires its share of grins, too.
Happiness also varies by alleged crime, according to our data. The most joyful jailbirds of all are those arrested for contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
The Saddest Suspects in the Bunch
Happiness isn’t the only common mugshot emotion (which is probably a good sign). Twenty-one percent of our arrestees showed their sadness on their faces.
The saddest suspects? Those arrested for allegedly inflicting cruelty on animals or driving under the influence.
And the most despairing states? West Virginia and Montana.
Contemptuous Ones Take the Stage
Other prevalent emotions in those 30,000-plus photos were contempt and anger, each showing up in 7 percent of the photos we scanned.
The alleged culprits most likely to jut out their chins in contempt are those arrested for gang activity, witness tampering, and child sexual assault. And the state most likely to show contempt in its photos? New Jersey (a stat that might not surprise fans of the reality TV show “Jersey Shore”).
America’s Angriest Suspected Offenders
While 59 percent of the suspected offenders were happy as clams (at least at the moment they got their photos taken), another 7 percent were enraged by their fate. We can’t say whether it was anger at getting caught, anger at themselves, or a more general anger at their lot in life, but we can tell you it’s a common emotion among those recently arrested. This is particularly the case in Maryland and for those arrested for unlawful transactions with a minor, gang offenses, or trespassing.
Shock and Awe
Not every suspected lawbreaker expects or accepts his or her fate. Five percent of the photos we researched showed utter surprise. The states where arrestees were most likely to showcase this emotion? Hawaii, North Carolina, and Nevada. And those most likely to look stunned? Alleged kidnappers, those arrested for sexual assault, and trespassers.
Disgusted at Being a Suspect
Disgust – one of psychology expert Paul Ekman’s universal emotions – is another strong feeling that shows up in the data. The arrestees most likely to wrinkle their noses in disgust were those arrested for gang-related crimes, weapons offenses, or unlawful transactions with minors. And the state with the most disgusted suspects is California, home of Los Angeles – a city known for its gangs.
Fear and Loathing in … Hawaii?
Finally, quite a few arrestees weren’t smiling happily, pulling up their lips in disgust, or squinting in contempt. Instead, they were wide-eyed with fear – perhaps terrified by what they’d done wondering what was going to happen next.
The state in which arrestees were most likely to show fear is Hawaii, followed by Kentucky. The suspects most likely to look terrified were alleged traffic offenders, those arrested for terrorism or terroristic threats, and statutory rapists.
The Emotions Behind the Criminal Mind
When we set out to analyze over 30,000 mugshots, we weren’t sure what we’d find. What emotions lurked behind the minds of those who’ve been arrested? How does it feel to be arrested and charged? Were arrestees sad, disgusted, or full of contempt?
For the most part, what we found was a bunch of cheerful suspected offenders, grinning fiercely at the camera, happy as can be. Of course, the logical next question is: Why?
And that one’s still a mystery.
We first surveyed Mugshots.com and gathered over 30,000 mugshots along with each arrestee’s crime data. Next, we sent the images through Microsoft Cognitive Services to determine which emotion was on each arrestee’s face during the mugshot photo.
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