Facial masculinity

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Older studies (e.g. Johnson et al. 2001) have concluded that fertile women prefer men with "masculine faces" but their measures of masculinity are unrelated to testosterone-mediated bone growth. Cheekbone position, skin darkness and maxillary protrusion are associated with the "masculine" faces.

Scott et al. (2010) has disproved the idea that fertile women have different preferences for facial masculinity:

To exclude the possibility that our null findings were due to individual variation in female preferences cancelling each other out (as a result of menstrual cycle phase, own attractiveness or any other individual difference variable that has been shown to influence preferences for masculinity in face shape), additional correlations between morphological masculinity and attractiveness ratings were performed for each participant individually. In sample 1, significant correlations between morphological masculinity and attractiveness ratings were observed among two of the participants (both correlations positive, p<.05), and in sample 2 there were no significant correlations (all p>.05). Thus, among the large majority (95%) of raters, there was no evidence of preference for masculinity, either positive or negative, a finding consistent with a generalised indifference to masculinity as a cue of mate value.

This video attempts to show women are attracted to masculine men for short-term relationships.

The image used in the video used was from the study by Johnson et al. 2001. This study uses an image of men with increasing masculinity, from right-to-left.


The women said that the masculine guy is the most sexy, not just because of his morphological masculine face, but because of the "stubble" and "darker eyes." However, a stubble and darker eyes are not necessarily correlated with high skeletal testosterone or masculinity. Women like a stubble and darker eyes because it fits the stereotypes that a stubble and darker eyes make the men more rugged.

Also, a woman said that the most "masculine" men is "rough is bed" and "arrogant." Basically, they judged the "masculine" men as the more dominant, not just due to his bone structure, but because of his stubble and darker eyes. Also, the most "masculine" man is leaner.

This is consistent with the second study (Said, C. P & Todorov, A. 2011) that being leaner, having facial hair and having darker eyes are more attractive, regardless of morphological masculinity.

There is a problem with the image. Notice that the further you go to the left, skeletal masculinity increases. However, other traits also change. From right to left, the skin becomes darker, the faces are leaner, there is more facial hair, there are darker eyes, etc. The neck is thicker too. The variables are not controlled.

A darker complexion has shown to be more attractive to fertile females (Frost 1994). Also facial hair such as a light stubble is more attractive. Facial leanness is also attractive (Rantala 2013). Said & Todorov (2011) has reconfirmed that a darker complexion, increased facial hair and leanness are all attractive in male faces.

From Said & Todoron (2011):

We also found that the overall weak effect of masculinity on the attractiveness of male faces (Rennels et al., 2008; Rhodes, 2006; Swaddle & Reierson, 2002) can be explained by a dissociation between the effects of the shape and reflectance properties of male faces. In general, we found that masculinity in male faces is attractive in the reflectance properties, but that femininity is attractive in the shape properties. This dissociation may also explain the many previously observed contradictory effects of masculinity, given that previous experiments typically defined masculinity with an unspecified combination of shape and reflectance cues.

DeBruine et al. (2010) has masked faces by covering up their hair and necklines, and found that female preferences for facial masculinity is nonexistent. Therefore neck thickness may be a larger contributor to attractiveness than masculinity. In studies that does not mask faces, (e.g. Perett et al. 1998) women actually prefer feminine faces. The same result has occurred in a study that controlled neck thickness (Said & Todorov 2011).

Also, the left male is not only only darker, has more facial hair, but also has better facial harmony. The masculine male not only has protruded supraorbital rims, he has protruded lateral orbital rims and infraorbital rims as well. He has great maxillary and cheekbone projection, and a positive canthal tilt. A receding chin is associated with a retruded maxilla. The masculine male doesn't have a receding chine while the feminine male has one.

In contrast, the feminine male has lateral orbital rim retrusion, as well as infraorbital rim retrusion (you can tell by the dark circles under his eyes), as well as a negative canthal tilt.

Masculinity is linked to health (aka good maxillary development). A long mandible and a 90 degree gonial angle are associated with not just with masculinity, but good maxillary development. So if you see a "masculine" face, it is more likely that it is a HEALTHY face with good maxillary development. Thus, when women say they like a guy with a "good jawline", they refer not just to masculinity but to HEALTHY facial development associated with maxillomandibular protrusion.

From Scott et al. (2010):

The subjective approach has generally found a small, but consistently positive association between perceived masculinity and attractiveness. However, the use of subjective measures is problematic; ratings of masculinity are unlikely to be based on judgements of face shape alone, and the term “masculinity” is liable to being interpreted as normative, and therefore to imply health and/or attractiveness. Consistent with this proposal, prior authors have found that rated masculinity is correlated with perceived health, and that this may explain part of the attractiveness of masculine-rated faces [34]. Associations between rated masculinity and attractiveness may not, therefore, imply a relationship between objective shape-masculinity and attractiveness.

Studies above like Johnston et al. (2010) show that more attractive women prefer "more masculine" faces. But the "more masculine" faces are disputed because their faces are not only more masculine, but they have thicker necks, etc.

Personality stereotypes associated with each face are not also controlled. The left face is stereotyped to be more dominant, regardless of how dominant he actually is.

A masculine face makes you seem more dominant. But you're famous, you are already dominant. If you're famous, you don't need a masculine face to appear dominant. This explains why many famous people such as Justin Bieber could get away with feminine faces.

People with feminine faces would have to work harder to appear dominant.

It is more expensive to maintain large muscles than to maintain a masculine face, because maintaining large muscles requires more calories. Thus it is plausible to suggest that large muscles rather than a masculine face would have more accurately predicted a desirable mate.

Costly signaling theory states that more expensive traits are more attractive. However, a large jaw is relatively INEXPENSIVE. A larger skeleton would be much more expensive. Think of how much more nutrients you need to maintain a larger skeleton vs. a larger jaw.

This is partially confirmed by the suggestion that neck thickness is more important than facial masculinity. Neck thickness is an indicator of whole body muscle mass and frame size, which matters more due to costly signaling as explained above. I also expect height to matter more than facial masculinity. However no studies have been conducted comparing facial masculinity vs. neck thickness or facial masculinity vs. height.

Also, our male ancestors were probably covered in facial hair anyways, so why would women supposedly like defined chins and jawlines? This is another contradiction to the facial masculinity theory.

Puts (2010) has theorized that facial masculinity evolved more as an INTRASEXUAL COMPETITION signal rather than an ATTRACTION signal. A strong jaw protects jaw fractures; a brow ridge protects the eyes. Beards make the jaw larger, which in turn makes men more intimidating. Yet the lack of facial hair does not decrease facial attractiveness that much. Could this be the same for facial masculinity as well?

References[edit | edit source]

  • Scott, I. M., Pound, N., Stephen, I. D., Clark, A. P., & Penton-Voak, I. S. (2010). Does masculinity matter? The contribution of masculine face shape to male attractiveness in humans. PLoS one, 5(10), e13585.
  • Said, C. P., & Todorov, A. (2011). A statistical model of facial attractiveness. Psychological science, 22(9), 1183-1190.
  • Johnston, V. S., Hagel, R., Franklin, M., Fink, B., & Grammer, K. (2001). Male facial attractiveness: Evidence for hormone-mediated adaptive design. Evolution and human behavior, 22(4), 251-267.
  • DeBruine L. M., Re, D. E., Perrett, D. I., Fincher, C. L. & Jones, B. C. (2013). Morphological versus perceptualmeasures of masculinity. European Human
  • DeBruine, L. M., Jones, B. C., Smith, F. G., & Little, A. C. (2010). Are attractive men's faces masculine or feminine? The importance of controlling confounds in face stimuli. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 36(3), 751.
  • Rantala, M. J., Coetzee, V., Moore, F. R., Skrinda, I., Kecko, S., Krama, T., ... & Krams, I. (2013). Adiposity, compared with masculinity, serves as a more valid cue to immunocompetence in human mate choice. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 280(1751), 20122495.[/quote]
  • Penton-Voak, I. S., Little, A. C., Jones, B. C., Burt, D. M., Tiddeman, B. P., & Perrett, D. I. (2003). Female condition influences preferences for sexual dimorphism in faces of male humans (Homo sapiens). Journal of Comparative Psychology, 117(3), 264.