Facial masculinity

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Facial masculinity refers to masculine facial features such as narrower eyes, a broader mandible, chin, forehead and nose, more massive (but not necessarily more protruding) cheekbones, a long lower face height below the nasal region, a more protruded and more robust brow ridge, facial hair, a darker complexion, and the overall maturity of the face.[1] Facial width to height ratio, although apparently associated with higher prenatal testosterone exposure, is not sexually dimorphic to any large degree,[2][3] though perceptions that individuals with higher fWHRs are more dominant may only apply to men.[4]

Facial masculinity appears largely determined by the level of pre-natal testosterone exposure, with a second spurt of testosterone during puberty also playing a role in masculinizing men's faces.[5][6]

Although facial masculinity is commonly referred to in the incelosphere (especially among the blackpilled subset of that community) and elsewhere as a significant element of male looks, facial masculinity seems to be mostly unrelated to male's facial attractiveness as rated by women, on a group level at least, with large studies often showing no effects or even an effect in the direction of more feminized male faces being rated by women as being more attractive.[7] However, this may not apply to the extremes.

The link between facial masculinity and overall sexual and reproductive success also seems generally non-existent in modern societies. A meta-analysis of the relationship between various forms of observable masculinity found there was no significant relationship between facial masculinity and sexual success or number of children fathered.[8] Though, this may be affected by certain contextual factors (that will be discussed in the body of the article). It appears that facial masculinity may have developed as it serves to aid men in competing with and intimidating other men for females and resources in certain contexts, as it enhances perceptions of aggressiveness and dominance.[9] Partnered men also generally perceive more facially masculine rivals as representing more a potential threat to the stability of their relationships.[10]

Facial masculinity is also associated with overall skull robustness.[11] Some of these masculine features may have developed due to historical natural selection pressure on these features among men.[12] In other words, high rates of violence in humanity's past may have selected for men with these traits. These men may have been more likely to survive violent incidents and pass on their genes. Ancestral men appear to have been historically at greater risk of dying from contact violence than women, as is found among certain highly-violent contemporary hunter-gatherer societies.[13][14] In modern societies, men also make up the majority of homicide victims worldwide.[15]

Partner investment related trade-offs

Part of the reason there appears to be no significant group-level associations between greater levels of facial masculinity and sexual and reproductive success is because there seems to be substantial variation in women's preferences for masculine faces. This variation appears to depend on a large variety of individual, societal and sociosexual factors, such as short-term vs long-term mating context, personal preferences, and the resource abundance or scarcity of their environments.

The most common explanation for this is based on evolutionary psychology hypotheses that claim there exists a trade-off between investment potential when women are evaluating male partners, and so-called 'good genes' benefits. This hypothesis predicts that among more promiscuous women, and in short-term mating contexts, women will have a general preference for more masculine male faces. In long-term relationships, women will prefer more feminine looks, as masculine men are said to be both higher in sexual value and more likely to cheat on their partners. There is some supporting evidence for the theory, in that women are using facial masculinity as a cue of potential partner investment, and that this is indeed a somewhat valid cue of males investment potential. Research has found that more masculine faces men are slightly more likely to engage in infidelity and mate poaching behaviors. However, this is barely detectable above chance.[16]

A meta-analysis into the relationship between own-attractiveness and preferences for sexually dimorphic traits in the opposite sex published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology (Chen et al., 2018) provides some more evidence for the trade-off hypothesis. This meta-analysis found that more attractive women seem to prefer more facially masculine men generally. However, it is essential to note that this study conflated self-reported and observer-rated and other more objective measures of physical attractiveness. Further research has demonstrated a link only between female's conceptions of their attractiveness and their preferences for facially masculine males, not their objective attractiveness.[17] The positive association that the authors found between higher levels of female attractiveness and preference for facial masculinity was also weaker than these women's greater preference for masculine voices and bodies.[18] As it stands, if facial masculinity is taken as a significant signal of 'good genes' in itself, the trade-off theory seems to be on shaky ground in terms of empirical evidence, having only very weak evidence supporting it.

Studies generally find much stronger effects for masculinized bodies compared to faces[19][20] and most that do see effects are focused on determining women's preferences when they are at their fertile peak during ovulation, only typically finding effects for hypothetical short-term mating contexts.[21][22] However, this whole line of research into women's preferences in terms of masculinity of men's bodies and faces changing during their menstrual cycle has recently fallen under intense criticism from elements of the academic community, as will be discussed below.

Ovulatory shift hypothesis and dual mating

The ideal of female trade-offs related to receiving 'good genes' from masculine men and investment from less masculine men is related to the controversial ovulatory shift hypothesis (that women's preferences for overall masculinity and other 'good genes' related traits in potential partners increases over their ovulatory cycle, as they begin to ovulate), resulting in females adopting a strategy of dual mating. The dual mating hypothesis suggests women are adapted to find highly investing partners for long-term relationships, and then opportunistically cuckold these highly supportive, 'beta' partners by sleeping with more masculine men with 'good genes' when they are fertile. Thus, if they manage to pull off this strategy successfully, they 'get their cake and eat it too', as they get investment from the beta and genes from the alpha. This hypothesis is quite popular in the redpill and blackpill communities, where it is commonly known as alphafuxx/betabuxx. This line of research has been hotly criticized, however, with some researchers suggesting that any effects discovered in these studies may be simply a result of the forced-choice methodologies typically used in this kind of research. This type of research is further confounded by the fact that women have superior facial recognition capabilities in general during the peak fertility period of their menstrual cycle.[23]

Some critics of the theory have gone even further, even implying that researchers whose studies find positive effects in terms of fecund women's preference for masculine faces may be engaged in outright scientific fraud. They state that papers that find positive effects for this phenomena typically have closed data (meaning you have to take the paper's authors word for it that their results are valid), and papers that find no significant effects often have open data, meaning their data is released and can thus be double-checked and confirmed by interested peers and non-specialists.[24]

It may be that any greater female tendency to commit infidelity during the peak of their ovulatory cycle may be simply due to the surge in hormones that occurs during the menstrual cycle serving to boost their libido.[25][26] Preferences for physical masculinity/feminity in male partners do not appear to change much, if at all, throughout their menstrual cycle.[27]

Handicap hypothesis

Despite the lack of strong evidence for there being a strong female preference for facial masculinity during short-term relationships or otherwise, there is (disputed) evidence that facial masculinity may indeed be weakly linked to overall health and immune system function. This link leads to the argument that women are attracted to testosterone-related traits in men as they 'honestly signal' his immune system's functionality. This feature would have been highly relevant in humanity's evolutionary past due to historically high rates of death from diseases. A longitudinal analysis of public health data found that several markers of immune system function at age 14 was associated with greater facial sexual dimorphism in both sexes in later life.[28] Other studies have also shown that testosterone is directly immunosuppressive, supporting the view that testosterone-related traits may honestly signal the quality of a man's immune system function to some degree.[29]

As it seems the only testosterone-related traits that women exhibit a strong revealed preference for (as measured by studies reporting the association between certain masculine features and lifetime partner count among men) are muscularity, vocal depth, and behavioral dominance, it remains to be seen what role facial masculinity itself plays in signalling good genes. There appears to be no strong general female preference for this trait, and other purported 'good genes' related signals (like bodily masculinity) are preferred in both short and long term partners among women (though to perhaps a greater or lesser degree depending on relationship context), drawing some doubt on the predictions that women don't universally find more masculine faces attractive due to investment-related concerns.

Other explanations for women's variability in preferences for facial masculinity

It could be that the lack of a strong female preference for facial masculinity could be partly due to other factors. Studies have found that there is only a weak correlation between individual masculine features and total facial masculinity,[30] so it may be that certain masculine traits increase attractiveness and others decrease it. This heterogeneity among individual masculine features would explain both why masculinity is strongly associated with men's physical attractiveness in the public imagination and why there are no strong effects for it on women's judgements of men's attractiveness on the group level.

It could be that certain masculine features such as broad chins are generally beneficial to attractiveness, and some are beneficial or neutral like a pronounced brow ridge. In contrast, some masculine traits, such as a broad nose, may be generally detrimental to attractiveness. It is also a fact that some traits that are generally considered attractive and popularly associated with masculinity, such as the angularity of the jaw, are only sexually dimorphic to a minor degree.[31] Research into the individual components of facial attractiveness has found that the only aspect of objective masculine dimorphism that is consistently found to be attractive in men is darker coloring, that is, darker hair, brows and an overall ruddy melanized skin complexion (within races).[32] This type of complexion is associated with higher testosterone levels in humans and many other mammals.

Thus, it seems clear that individual elements of facial masculinity affect women's perceptions of men's attractiveness distinctly and that these traits are often not highly correlated with each other. These two facts partially explain the contradictory findings in studies that examine women's preferences for this trait.

Another explanation for the inconsistently regarding women's preferences for sexual dimorphism in male faces is that women's preferences for facial masculinity are affected by environmental contexts, such as disease load and resource abundance/scarcity. In contradiction to what the handicap theory of masculinity would predict (which is that more impoverished women in countries with a higher disease burden would be expected to be more drawn to facially masculine men, due to this being associated with a superior immune function), a team of researchers in 2019 analyzing a cross-cultural sample of female raters found that women in countries with higher human developmental indices had a stronger preference for facially masculine men.[33]

They emphasized that their findings did not support certain predictions of the 'good genes' theory. The authors attributed some of this effect to increased mass media exposure and most of it to women in these more prosperous countries being more sexually liberated and economically secure, thus making them freer to make costly mate-choices.[34] The evidence they cited that more masculine men are generally more sexually successful was very weak, however, and is flatly contradicted by meta-analyses into this subject, noted above in this article, which includes data from Western samples. This study does seem to provide further evidence that promiscuous women tend to prefer masculine men more, though even in the most developed countries a substantial proportion of women preferred more feminized male faces in the 'forced-choice' paradigm used in this study. There was no 'neutral' option for a man with an intermediate degree of facial masculinity, which may be ideal, in accordance with the goldilocks zones principle.

Finally, it may be that attractiveness itself (which is mostly unrelated to facial masculinity), may moderate the effects of facial masculinity in terms of attraction. Yang et al. (2015) found that there was a general preference for masculinized faces when comparing two attractive morphs. Still, the results were more mixed when comparing less attractive morphs, with women preferring the androgynous morphs during the low attractiveness condition, as measured by eye fixations and dwell time.[35] It may be that less attractive masculine men are more likely to be perceived as aggressive, arrogant and several other undesirable traits, while more attractive masculine men are not, due to the halo effect. In other words, it could be that ugly and masculine is seen as threatening, and attractive and masculine is perceived as hot and dominant.

See also


  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0018442X15000943
  2. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/237077950_No_Evidence_for_Sexual_Dimorphism_of_Facial_Width-to-Height_Ratio_in_Four_Large_Adult_Samples
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1090513816300927
  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0042698920300158
  5. https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/full/10.1098/rspb.2011.2351
  6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0018506X11002157
  7. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0225549#pone.0225549.ref040
  8. https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.03.06.980896v2.full
  9. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs40750-020-00128-2
  10. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0191886911004910
  11. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/262941134_Face_of_a_fighter_Bizygomatic_width_as_a_cue_of_formidability
  12. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/brv.12112
  13. https://www.pnas.org/lookup/ijlink/YTozOntzOjQ6InBhdGgiO3M6MTQ6Ii9sb29rdXAvaWpsaW5rIjtzOjU6InF1ZXJ5IjthOjQ6e3M6ODoibGlua1R5cGUiO3M6NDoiQUJTVCI7czoxMToiam91cm5hbENvZGUiO3M6Mzoic2NpIjtzOjU6InJlc2lkIjtzOjEyOiIyMzkvNDg0My85ODUiO3M6NDoiYXRvbSI7czoyMjoiL3BuYXMvMTA2LzIwLzgxMzQuYXRvbSI7fXM6ODoiZnJhZ21lbnQiO3M6MDoiIjt9
  14. https://books.google.com/books/about/Ethnographic_Essays_in_Cultural_Anthropo.html?id=r-cUAgAACAAJ
  15. http://www.unodc.org/documents/gsh/pdfs/2014_GLOBAL_HOMICIDE_BOOK_web.pdf
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6502397/
  17. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1090513820300611
  18. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30568615/
  19. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10508-006-9029-3
  20. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30568615/
  21. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S109051380500019X
  22. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0306453011003374
  23. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0010027720300202
  24. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1090513819302648
  25. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1090513820300775
  26. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0306453017308740
  27. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0018506X15301264
  28. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1090513820300350?via%3Dihub
  29. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0016648020303300
  30. https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/abs/10.1098/rspb.2001.1703
  31. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/000294165490127X
  32. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1090513815000859?via%3Dihub
  33. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-39350-8#Sec2
  34. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-39350-8#Sec2
  35. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0191886914007132

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