August 30, 2011

Broad-faced behavioral correlates / the rise of the new physiognomics?

The width-to-height ratio of the face had been previously found to be positively linked to aggressiveness and untrustworthiness.

A couple of new papers discover new correlations between broad faces and behavior.

From LiveScience:
Shape of CEO's Face Linked to Company Performance
The shape of a CEO's face can predict his company's financial performance, according to a new study in which researchers analyzed photos of 55 male chief executive officers of Fortune 500 businesses.

The crucial feature: Facial width. Corporate leaders with faces that were wide relative to their length — such as Herb Kelleher, the former CEO of Southwest Airlines — tended to lead better-performing companies than CEOs with narrower faces, such as Dick Fuld, the long-faced final CEO of Lehman Brothers, the study found.
Wide Faces Predict Unethical Behavior
A man's face might hint whether he is bad to the bone, with scientists finding that wider faces might predict unethical behavior in men.

Wide faces in men have been linked with aggression and perceptions of untrustworthiness. Now researchers have discovered that broad-faced men appear more likely to deceive their counterparts in negotiations and are more willing to cheat in order to increase their financial gain.
I will add the CEO study abstract when I see it on the journal website (post a link in the comments if you've found it).

These results certainly go against the "don't judge a book by its cover" adage, and may mean that the old physiognomists from Pseudo-Aristotle to Lavater may have been onto something. I don't know what, if anything, they had to say about broad faces in particular, but it is certainly the case that the easy dismissal of their work in more recent times may have been premature.

Of course much of what was in the old physiognomy may have been the result of personal preferences/prejudices/experiences. Thankfully, nowadays we can evaluate stereotypes statistically to see whether they contain a grain of truth, and even discover novel associations.

I've always thought that there is an element of truth to physiognomy, judging from the visual and theatrical arts: heroes, villains, comical characters, princesses and evil witches are so often presented with distinctive visual cues that their presentation must touch on some objective anthropometric-behavioral reality.

Proceedings of the Royal Society B doi: 10.1098/rspb.2011.1193

Bad to the bone: facial structure predicts unethical behaviour
Michael P. Haselhuhn and Elaine M. Wong


Researchers spanning many scientific domains, including primatology, evolutionary biology and psychology, have sought to establish an evolutionary basis for morality. While researchers have identified social and cognitive adaptations that support ethical behaviour, a consensus has emerged that genetically determined physical traits are not reliable signals of unethical intentions or actions. Challenging this view, we show that genetically determined physical traits can serve as reliable predictors of unethical behaviour if they are also associated with positive signals in intersex and intrasex selection. Specifically, we identify a key physical attribute, the facial width-to-height ratio, which predicts unethical behaviour in men. Across two studies, we demonstrate that men with wider faces (relative to facial height) are more likely to explicitly deceive their counterparts in a negotiation, and are more willing to cheat in order to increase their financial gain. Importantly, we provide evidence that the link between facial metrics and unethical behaviour is mediated by a psychological sense of power. Our results demonstrate that static physical attributes can indeed serve as reliable cues of immoral action, and provide additional support for the view that evolutionary forces shape ethical judgement and behaviour.


No comments: