Facial shape analysis identifies valid cues to aspects of physiological health in Caucasian, Asian, and African populations

Ian D. Stephen*, Vivian Hiew, Vinet Coetzee, Bernard P. Tiddeman, David I. Perrett

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)
49 Downloads (Pure)


Facial cues contribute to attractiveness, including shape cues such as symmetry, averageness and sexual dimorphism. These cues may represent cues to objective aspects of physiological health, thereby conferring an evolutionary advantage to individuals who find them attractive. The link between facial cues and aspects of physiological health is therefore central to evolutionary explanations of attractiveness. Previously, studies linking facial cues to aspects of physiological health have been infrequent, have had mixed results, and have tended to focus on individual facial cues in isolation. Geometric morphometric methodology (GMM) allows a bottom-up approach to identifying shape correlates of aspects of physiological health. Here, we apply GMM to facial shape data, producing models that successfully predict aspects of physiological health in 272 Asian, African and Caucasian faces – percentage body fat (21.0% of variance explained), body mass index (BMI; 31.9%) and blood pressure (BP; 21.3%). Models successfully predict percentage body fat and blood pressure even when controlling for BMI, suggesting that they are not simply measuring body size. Predicted values of BMI and BP, but not percentage body fat, correlate with health ratings. When asked to manipulate the shape of faces along the physiological health variable axes (as determined by the models), participants reduced predicted BMI, body fat and (marginally) BP, suggesting that facial shape provides a valid cue to aspects of physiological health.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1883
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2017

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2017. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • face perception
  • health perception
  • geometric morphometrics
  • evolutionary psychology
  • facial appearance


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