The return of physiognomy

by on August 27, 2008 at 5:07 am in Science | Permalink

It has been found, for example, that women can predict a man’s
interest in infant children from his face. Trustworthiness also shows
up, as does social dominance. The latest example comes from a paper
just published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society by
Justin Carré and Cheryl McCormick, of Brock University in Ontario,
Canada.

The thesis developed by Mr Carré and Dr McCormick is that
aggressiveness is predictable from the ratio between the width of a
person’s face and its height. Their reason for suspecting this is that
this ratio differs systematically between men and women (men have wider
faces) and that the difference arises during puberty, when sex hormones
are reshaping people’s bodies. The cause seems to be exposure to
testosterone, which is also known to make people aggressive. It seems
reasonable, therefore, to predict a correlation between aggression and
face shape.

The bottom line is that a wide face predicts male aggression.  The study is based on photos of hockey players and measures of their combativeness.  Here is the full story.  Here is an Oprah magazine article on how women can camouflage a wide face with the right haircut.

TheophileEscargot August 27, 2008 at 8:26 am

Seems a bit much to conclude from that one study.

Suppose that a wide face in ice hockey players is correlated with a physical build that makes fouling a better strategy? Or a build that’s more likely to play in certain positions, in which fouling is more likely?

Anonymous August 27, 2008 at 9:50 am

The methodology is suspect. Fighting in hockey is done primarily by designated “enforcers” who are assigned that role by the coach and whose careers depend on carrying it out. This doesn’t measure aggressiveness, any more than claiming that karate experts are aggressive because they hit a lot.

Why wide faces? Maybe a wide face is more tolerant of landed punches because the blow is distributed over a larger surface area. Or perhaps a wide face is a byproduct of larger and stronger facial bones. Because of the awkward nature of fighting while clutching and wearing skates, a lot of hockey fighting consists of trying to punch the opponent’s head with one flailing free arm.

Anonymous August 27, 2008 at 10:07 am

Re: women’s ability to predict a man’s interest in infant children.

Just because someone can predict something doesn’t it’s going to be weighed heavily amongst other variables. But also, there are a lot of babydaddies because women can survive on social support without them — in fact the welfare rules actually encourage that sort of situation. If you can generally maintain your standard of living and have kids, it matters a lot less if there is another party there to assist them. I think that society projects a larger desire on social mobility than is actually present in the average person.

I have no moral judgment or prescription either way, I am just trying to determine the reality of the situation.

constant August 28, 2008 at 4:38 am

That reminds me of another recent result (Todorov and Oosterhof) in which people also drew inferences from face to character. As I understand it, in the earlier study no claim was made about the accuracy of the inferences.

jerry August 28, 2008 at 4:11 pm

Well said Jason.. I think this is the whole point of the research.. and the effect was consistent across 8 samples.. pretty convincing

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