Temperament: Men, Testosterone, Wide Faces and Hockey Players

In case “Men, testosterone, wide faces and hockey players” seems like too much in one title, lets look back on past blog findings.  About a year ago I reported Successful CEOs:  Wide faces or Extraversion?:  The first study in that blog concerned findings that faces that are wide relative to height (in bone structure, not added fat!) predict greater accomplishment among men who are the chief executive officers of their companies. A second study found, however, that this facial structure predicted that its owner would be more likely to deceive in negotiations, cheat, and generally behave more unethically.

By June, 2012, I had accumulated some further Wide Face Studies and reported on these in Temperament Updates on Wide Faces.  One report studied US President faces–a group of 29 where good frontal photos could be used–and found that the main personality factor correlating strongly with wide faces, was achievement drive. That drive would be considered to be related to aggression, so again wide faces (men only) relate to getting ahead, whether by stealth or forcefulness.  Yet another study had found that both adult males and 8 year-old boys made successful judgements of photos of target males based on width to height ratios of the faces.  That doesn’t mean that the aggression levels of the targets were known, but rather that the men and boys in the study used the ratio as a marker of aggression without any prior knowledge of the relationship. This suggested a biological basis for making such judgements.

Finally in the September 2012 blog, Temperament:  More on Faces, Asymmetry, even Optimism I cited a newer study that suggested that while women are more nurturant in a home and family setting,–doing much more in caring for children, the sick and elderly, for example, the authors 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.”  The authors argued that men through evolution have become “competitively cooperative” in an in-group, out-group situation.  Thus our wide-faced CEOs were not only motivated to compete, but also to foster in-group cooperation that led to success.

The wide face relationship is entirely a male phenomenon, so presumptively produced by testosterone or some testosterone-related substance. A 2013 study found that “the FWHR is positively correlated with levels of testosterone in men.** Thus it is male, involves testosterone  and correlates well with achievement, aggression, corner cutting, successful careers as CEOs and US Presidents, out-group competition, and in-group cooperation.

That brings us up to 2013 and two new studies in one report.  Both suggest that these raging wide-faced males may not be hopelessly out of control in all circumstances.***  The authors of this study were concerned about recent reports of very weak findings for the wide face ratio and aggression in hockey players–a logical place to find a strong relationship.  They considered the possibility that this type of aggression might depend on some context factor or factors that no one had looked at.  Thinking that social status might be such a factor they did two experiments.  In the first they used college students, getting the ratio from frontal photos of them, and social status from a self-report measure.  Following this they were individually tested on a measure of reactive aggression.  They played against a computer but believed that they were competing with a male partner for cash prizes.

Results? Although both men and women participated equally in the experiment, there was no meaningful effect of face ratio or aggression in women, whether high or low status.  Aggression in wide-face high status men was just marginally significant, but in low status men it soared.

They then repeated this general idea in a natural hockey setting.  Pictures of the players were obtained from the sports illustrated website, and the ratio measured from this.  Player salaries, plus level (entry or standard)  were used as the status measure and penalty minutes for the same season as the aggression measure.  A total of 891 players were followed for that year.  Status was a very relative thing, of course with the lowest salary at $900,000.00 and the highest at $10,000,000.00

It turned out that contract level, salary and wide-face ratio were all significant predictors of the number of penalties per game.  Wide-face ratio alone as a predictor of aggression was significant but not a big factor alone. But–combine the face ratio and low status and the effect again is clear.  Looking only at the wide-faced, high salary and thus high status men, there is simply no effect of wide faces.  Interestingly, not all wide-faced, low status males were more aggressive.  It depended on how-wide, with aggressive effects increasing with facial width.  The authors conclude that “wide-faced men are not destined for aggressive behavior–it is only in the context of relatively low social status that wide-faced men may be particularly prone to engage in aggressive behavior.

I guess you just have to keep an eye out for wide-faced men who seem to be down on their luck–pr at ;east be sure you are in their in-group!


*  References from prior blogs will be found with those blogs.

**Lefevre, C. E., Lewis, G. J.  et al. (2013). Telling facial metrics: Facial width is associated with testosterone levels in men.  Evolution and Human Behavior, 34, 169-173.

*** Goetz, Stefan, M. M., et al. (2013)  Social Status Moderates the Relationship Between Facial Structure and Aggression.  Psychological Science 24, 2329-2334.



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