Deciphering faces

Quantifiable visual cues to weight

Vinet Coetzee*, Jingying Chen, David I. Perrett, Ian D. Stephen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

79 Citations (Scopus)


Body weight plays a crucial role in mate choice, as weight is related to both attractiveness and health. People are quite accurate at judging weight in faces, but the cues used to make these judgments have not been defined. This study consisted of two parts. First, we wanted to identify quantifiable facial cues that are related to body weight, as defined by body mass index (BMI). Second, we wanted to test whether people use these cues to judge weight. In study 1, we recruited two groups of Caucasian and two groups of African participants, determined their BMI and measured their 2-D facial images for: width-to-height ratio, perimeter-to-area ratio, and cheek-to-jaw-width ratio. All three measures were significantly related to BMI in males, while the width-to-height and cheek-to-jaw-width ratios were significantly related to BMI in females. In study 2, these images were rated for perceived weight by Caucasian observers. We showed that these observers use all three cues to judge weight in African and Caucasian faces of both sexes. These three facial cues, width-to-height ratio, perimeter-to-area ratio, and cheek-to-jaw-width ratio, are therefore not only related to actual weight but provide a basis for perceptual attributes as well.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-61
Number of pages11
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

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