Temperament: More on Faces, Asymmetry, even Optimism


In past blogs I have reported on the links between wide faces and aggressiveness/high achievement levels in successful CEOs of major companies, in US Presidents, and in reverse, in the rather sad finding that narrow-faced males are more likely to die from contact violence than wider-faced males.

*A 2012 research report adds an interesting twist to these findings, however.   In the introduction to the report two interesting contradictions are discussed.  While women are more nurturant in a home and family setting–doing much more in caring for children, the sick and elderly, for example, they note that “men appear to be more helpful than women in public activities and are also more likely to engage in heroic and risky helping….Combining out-group aggression with in-group helping, men are also more likely than women to die for their perceived kin in the ultimate aggressive helpfulness of suicide terrorism.  What they are arguing is that men have evolved to be “competitively cooperative” uniting with their own in-group when there is outside danger or competition.  Even in the case of the wide-faced executives who were so financially successful, they suggest that it was not only the competitive drive, but also the in-group cooperation that produced the successful results.

Bodily Asymmetry

Reporting on findings From a  research study in the American Journal of Human Biology the bulletin research news** reports that the more asymmetrical matching body parts are (ears, fingers, feet) the more likely the individual would be to show aggression when provoked.  This has been suggested from a number of studies.   The general explanation is that symmetry is the norm, and asymmetry suggests that stressors during pregnancy may interfere with the normal genetic program.  The assumption is that these same stressors must interfere in the development of relevant parts of the nervous system.  That is–it is not your big left ear and small right foot that makes you angry and aggressive, but the larger process that produced the asymmetry!

Returning to fingers I came across a study I missed years ago on finger length.***  It is well known that men typically have a longer ring finger and shorter index finger, with the reverse in women, and this has been attributed to differences in fetal testosterone levels.  Interestingly though, this 1999 article reported that at the same time that fetal testosterone levels are affecting the development of genitals, (from week eight on) they are also having impacts on the development of fingers and thumbs and of the nervous system.  Very high fetal testosterone is thought to both lengthen the growth of fingers (and especially the ring finger compared to the index finger) and to increase later scores on the widely used Beck Depression Inventory.

So there you are.  We soon won’t be able to hide at all, and will begin to wonder if new dating partners are assessing our finger length, ear symmetry and facial width rather than taking in our fascinating conversation!


Switching from body parts, here is a 2011 finding that seems to support the idea of the Big One in personality.****  This study wasn’t focused on finding a single overall factor.  Rather, they wanted to see which of the five factors would predict a general attitude of  Optimism.  However. they found that “optimism was strongly related to four of the five major factors of personality (all but Openness).  Differences in Extraversion (positive) and Neuroticism (negative) were by far the strongest factors, but Conscientiousness and Agreeableness also made positive contributions.  Except for Openness, this is very similar to the findings for the Big One as a positive overall factor.  The authors note that the  optimist  profile leads to an overall positive world view resulting in a tendency toward better mental/physical health and adaptive behavior.


*Stirrat, M. & Perrett, D. I. (2012),  Face Structure Predicts Cooperation:  Men with Wider Faces Are More Generous to Their In-Group When Out-group Competition is Salient.  Psychological Science 23(7), 718-722.

**Aggressive tendencies may be revealed by asymmetry in body parts, study finds.  (Reported online at http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/symmetry.htm)

***Hidden significance of  a man’s ring finger. (reported online at http://www.liv.ac.uk./researchintelligence/issue2/finger.html)

****Sharpe, J. P. et al. (2011) Optimism and the Big Five factors of personality:  Beyond Neuroticism and Extraversion.  Personality and Individual Differences 51 946-951

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2 Responses to Temperament: More on Faces, Asymmetry, even Optimism

  1. INTJ says:

    Well, I have always thought that Openness was the least solid of the Big Five. It has variously been described as simply an orientation (being open to ideas and change), or as a part of intelligence, or as a set of values. The facet that specifically taps values seems to be tapping intellectual values or at least upper middle-class values (going to museums, for example) and most of the specific values seem to be on the liberal side.

    My only thought, respecting optimism is that a passion for change does suggest that you don’t find present conditions very pleasing!

  2. Lars says:

    Interesting finding, that optimism relates to everything but openness.

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