What can we tell about a person from his or her face? Quite a bit, it seems. Psychological experiments since the turn of the millennium have indicated we do a good job judging people's sexual orientation, reproductive fitness, criminal proclivities, and even whether they're Mormon or not all based on their faces. A new study suggests there’s another trait we can add to the list: a man’s willingness to express racist beliefs.
There’s an obvious irony to a study that says we can tell if a man will act bigoted based on the shape of his face. But the logic underpinning the study, conducted by researchers at the University of Delaware and soon to be published in the journal Psychological Science, is a circuitous and unexpected one, and it makes a persuasive case.
Turns out it’s all about the testosterone.
Recent research indicates that men with high levels of testosterone have certain facial characteristics that set them apart from men with less testosterone. In particular, they have what researchers call a higher "facial Width-to-Height Ratio" (fWHR) which compares the distance between cheekbones to the distance between the upper lip and midbrow. Men with a higher ratio have faces that appear a bit wider horizontally and bit compressed vertically (see below). Studies suggest they also tend to behave more often in ways we commonly associate with testosterone—including (sorry, guys) a greater willingness to cheat, exploit other people, commit fouls in a hockey rink, and behave aggressively in general.
The difference in fWHR commonly found between men and women seems to emerge during puberty, when most adolescent boys’ testosterone suddenly shoots through the roof. Their narrow, egg-shaped craniums get proportionally wider, a bit more block shaped.