Temperament updates on Wide Faces

In a November blog entitled “Successful CEOs: Wide faces or Extraversion”, I reported on an article that had found that top CEOs had faces that were relatively wide for height. This was based on underlying bone structure, not fatty tissue. With this was a second study of this same facial structure in college students. Here, the wide bone structure was linked to willingness to cheat in a lab experiment.  Together, these two studies would suggest that the highly successful CEOs may have been aided by a greater willingness to cut corners and generally manipulate things to their company’s advantage.

This led me back to Jerome Kagan’s work on low and high reactives, which resemble extroverts and introverts in their behavior, with low reactives being smiley and pretty fearless and high reactives being serious and generally anxious.  He had found a relationship between these traits and wide or narrow faces.  So, from there I leaped to the conclusion that the relationship to wide faces was through wide faces and extroversion.

New findings have come in since then, however, that suggest both that I leaped too soon, and that I may have given extroversion a bad name in the process.  Here are some more recent findings.  The first concerns US Presidents.  Twenty-nine of them were selected based on availability of good frontal photographs and sufficient historical data on character and personality.  Researchers expected wide facial structure to correlate with dominance and aggressiveness.  Out of a group of 14 personality factors,  the experimenters selected achievement-drive, forcefulness, inflexibility, and pacifism as most relevant (positively or negatively).  Of these four, only achievement drive correlated with facial width, but this correlation was substantial.  Interestingly, they looked back at the rest of the 14 factors and found that just one–“poise and polish” had was related to face width.  This correlation was negative, so at least we can gather from all this that wide faced US Presidents tend to have high achievement drives (assumed to be aggressive as a trait) and somehow did not take time in their busy lives to  cultivate poise and polish.  There is not a lot of new information here but it does go along with a presumably inborn sign (wide faces) and more aggressive behavior.

More interesting and surprising was a study done on the ability of others to judge the aggressiveness of target persons based on the width to height ratio, without any prior information or training.  The judgers were boys aged 8 years, and adult males  (There is no known relationship of the facial feature to aggressiveness in women). They were either caucasian or asian (Chinese), as were the judges.  By using two different ethnic groups they were testing whether wide faces would be linked to aggression even in faces where the judger had had less regular experience.  What they found was that for both age groups and for persons judging their own ethnic group and persons judging the opposite ethnic group, the estimates of aggressiveness “were positively correlated with facial width-to-height ratio irrespective of rating own or other race faces”.  Correlations were stronger for the adult judgers but were significant in all cases.  The authors conclude that this is an evolutionary mechanism for threat detection, not based on learned experiences.

Third and last is a pretty sad study that found that narrow faced males were significantly more likely to die from contact violence (being stabbed, strangled, or bludgened to death) than wider faced males.  Both male (523) and female (339) skeletons were tested in this study, but there was no relationship for women and facial width.  The authors suggest that wider faced males appear more “formidable” and are therefore less likely to be attacked in this way.  Since these various studies have (so far) just suggested that narrow face males are less of whatever wide face males are, we can assume that they both look less threatening and are less aggressive.  Were they  attacked by wide faced males?  No information is given and we can assume that if they got away, no one knows, and if they didn’t get away, most likely, no one has ventured to measure their facial width!

Everyone reporting on this indicates that the facial width and the relationship to aggression are entirely male phenomena and related to testosterone.  To affect the facial structure this has to be early in development, so I assume the relationship to aggressiveness is similarly developmental in origin.

As for my extroversion hypothesis–well that is an interesting problem.  On the one hand, extroversion is related to relative fearlessness, and greater impulsiveness and could lead, at least, to more frequent cheating and corner cutting.  On the other hand, at least as measured by the MBTI extroversion was found in a large national sample to be slightly less common in men than in women (45.9% to 52.5%).  That would seem to rule out a testosterone relationship to extroversion, and thus a relationship to wide faces.  Still and all, it  would be interesting to know if there is a relationship to  wide faces in male extroverts, that is not there in male introverts.  Nice project for some psychology graduate student!


Lewis, G. J. et al. (2012). Facial width-to-height ratio predicts achievement drive in US Presidents.  Personality and Individual Differences, 52, 855-857.

Short, L. A., et al. (2012).  Detection of propensity for aggression based on facial structure irrespective of race. Evolution and Human Behavior, 33 (2) 121-129.

Stirrat, M. et al. (2012).  Male facial width is associated with death by contact violence:  narrow-faced males are more likely to die from contact violence. Evolution and Human Behavior–Online

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3 Responses to Temperament updates on Wide Faces

  1. Louche says:

    Fascinating! But I wouldn’t be so quick to jump to the conclusion that its an innate judgment. Men generally have wider faces than women, as well as wider skeletal frames. And actually, these skeletal changes can happen in adulthood. I can give you two examples:

    1. I have read reports of people taking Vitamin K2 MK-4 and finding that their bones grew in, particularly in the jaw. In one case, someone reported growing two inches at the age of 58! I doubt this happens to everyone who takes MK-4 at the level they did, but it makes sense.

    2. Many transgender men find that when they start taking testosterone supplements, their bodies not only grow male hair patterns, but their shoulders and faces grow wider. However, they don’t normally grow taller (I don’t know about cases before puberty as the difference would probably require a scientific study), and their hands and some other bones never grow bigger to my knowledge. I’m not sure about the incidence of faces growing wider, but I’ve seen a number of videos of them documenting changes and you can see it yourself. Some of this may be due to fat redistribution, but not all of it.

    So, it makes sense that – innate or not – people would generally conclude subconsciously that men with wider faces are more formidable. Indeed, they are generally going to be healthier due to proper nutrition; they’d be seen as more masculine since this is a male trait; and they’d generally be seen as bigger and tougher. Another question is, are their shoulders equally broad for their height?

    But you know what? CEOs are also something like 3-4 times as likely to be 6′ and over than the average American. Presidents also tend to be tall. I think the shortest president was like 5’8, just shy of the modern average male height. Are they more aggressive? Or is their just a bias toward tall people that lets them get away more with being aggressive – where they feel more entitled? Or maybe such biases are mutually reinforcing with genetics. Who knows?

  2. INTJ says:

    Most interesting to me is that it was women this time. There seem to be far more things about males–wide faces, digits, I even saw something about men’s ears, but went back and couldn’t find it.

    Now that wordpress seems to be in good shape here, I will take a look at the article you mention.

  3. Lars says:

    Interesting stuff, especially that it only applies for males. Also it shows us how easy we can unintentionally jump to wrong conclusions.

    Interesting related article about face reading: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20126957.300-how-your-looks-betray-your-personality.html

    For high scorers in the categorys of luckiness and religiousnsess, people were able to distinguish them from low scorers only by looking at the faces. However, this was only possible with womans faces. Mens faces didn’t give anything away. Fascinating!

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