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Face shape indicates success in men

An example illustrating how the facial width-to-height ratio (FWH ratio) was calculated for the stimuli. The faces have FWH ratios of 1.81 (left) and 2.20 (right).

A factor behind the success of top UK male business leaders is the shape of their faces, according to University of Sussex research published today (Friday 7 June).

Psychologists Professor Jamie Ward and Shuaa Alrajih asked people to rate a selection of photographs on ‘gut instinct’. The results showed that faces of male chief executives had a greater facial width-to-height (FWH) ratio compared to a control group and were perceived as more dominant and successful.

FWH is measured as the maximum horizontal distance from the left facial boundary to the right facial boundary (width) divided by the distance from the top of the lip to the highest point of the eyelids (height). It has been suggested that development of this facial characteristic is related to differences in adolescent levels of testosterone, a hormone known to be involved in socially dominating behaviour.

The study involved participants rating photographs of 93 Chief Executive Officers (CEO) from the top 100 FTSE companies, and 93 faces taken from the internet on scales of dominance, trustworthiness, aggression, attraction and success.

The photos were taken from company websites and contained only the head and neck. Participants were not told who the men were and images were excluded if any were noted as familiar.

Professor Ward concluded: “There are two possible explanations for this finding. Either FWH is a reliable marker of a person’s dominant personality or that we are more likely to select leaders with this trait. On balance the evidence is most consistent with the former.

“We know from previous research that men with higher FWH behave in a more competitive way suggesting the difference lies within them rather than others. This finding provides evidence for a link between business leadership and FWH; further research is required to establish if social dominance is the mediating psychological trait.”

‘Increased facial width-to-height ratio and perceived dominance in the faces of the UK's leading business leaders’ is published in the British Journal of Psychology.

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Posted on behalf of: School of Psychology
Last updated: Friday, 7 June 2013

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