Researchers from the University of Michigan (UM) have found that many women make judgments about a man's character based on his facial characteristics, and that these personality assessments often influence life-partnering decisions.
UM psychologist, Daniel J. Kruger, conducted a series of experiments showing nearly 1,000 male and female subjects versions of composite male faces that had been altered to look more or less masculine by adjusting, for example, the shape of the jaw, the strength of brow ridges and the thickness of lips.
The subjects were then asked which of the men they preferred as mates, dates, parents of their children or companions for their girlfriends. They were also asked which men were most likely to behave in certain ways - starting a fight or hitting a woman, for example.
The results, reported in Personal Relationships, provide a fascinating glimpse into how the human mind makes assumptions based on appearances, showing that more masculine faces were associated with riskier, more competitive behaviors and lower parenting effort in comparison with less masculine faces.
The macho men were judged more likely to get into physical fights, challenge their bosses, sleep with many women, cheat on their partners and knowingly hit on someone else's girlfriend. Those with more feminine faces were judged to be more likely to be good husbands, be great with children, work hard at their jobs (even though they didn't like them), and be emotionally supportive.
Tellingly, the male subjects picked the less masculine-looking men to accompany their girlfriends on a weekend trip to another city and both men and women preferred the less masculine versions as dating partners for their daughters.
"It's remarkable that minor physiological differences lead people to pre-judge a man's personality and behavior," said Kruger. "But even though physiognomy [the attribution of personality to faces] is thought to be a pseudoscience, a lot of people believe there's a link between looks and personality."
Kruger thinks that evolutionary psychology may be at the root of physiognomy as facial masculinity is related to levels of testosterone during development, and testosterone levels are related to rates of infidelity, violence and divorce. "Facial masculinity may serve as a visual cue in female mate choice, much as the tail of the male peacock signals females about male fitness to reproduce," Kruger explained.
"Both men and women generally respond to men with high and low facial masculinity in ways that could be expected to benefit their own reproductive success," Kruger concluded. "While the more masculine-looking men may be good bets for mating, the more feminine-looking men may be better bets as parenting partners."
Source: University of Michigan