What quality is a submissive woman

Face research: look at my jaw, little one!

Face research: look at my jaw, little one!

What impression you have of a person depends heavily on certain features on his face. If this is round and strong, the other one seems to be strong. But is that still relevant today?

The world is full of drawers. Especially when it comes to assessing other people. What kind of type is this: dominant or submissive? Cunning or Naive? Trustworthy or not? People often make such judgments in seconds, without ever having exchanged a word with the respective person. All it takes is a quick look in the face, a snapshot on social media or a photo in the application documents. You already think you have at least a rough idea of ​​someone.

Appearance gives a first impression of competence

But how does this first impression come about? When asked, hardly anyone can justify why a certain face appears particularly masculine or attractive to them. Sonja Windhager from the University of Vienna says:

"It's usually just a gut feeling."

But you and your colleagues want to know what's behind it. "We are investigating what exactly people use to make such assessments," explains the biologist.

Try with children

Sonja Windhager has been fascinated by such questions since scientists at the University of Lausanne carried out an amazing experiment a few years ago. They presented photos of two unknown French politicians to Swiss children between the ages of 5 and 13. They were supposed to entrust one of them with command of a ship in a computer game.

The children not only showed very similar preferences as adults who were faced with the same task. They also very reliably predicted the results of the French parliamentary elections: the preferred captain was usually also the election winner.

The mysterious first impression

From this, the researchers concluded that voters do not pay so much attention to a candidate's actual competence or performance when making a decision. Rather, the mysterious first impression seems to play the decisive role here too. “That was an extremely exciting result for me,” recalls Sonja Windhager. "Unfortunately, at the time, my colleagues did not examine how the children came to their assessments of competence and leadership quality."

Artificial faces

In order to be able to systematically investigate such questions, the biologist has developed a new method together with her colleague Katrin Schäfer. The scientists can use special computing programs to create artificial faces on the computer. These so-called morphs only differ in the characteristic features of a single property.
"The body fat content has a very strong influence on the shape of a person's face," explains Sonja Windhager. The higher it is, the larger and wider the lower part of the face is and the smaller the eyes are compared to the rest of the face. So the researchers created female morphs with varying degrees of this property. 275 men and women were then asked to assess how dominant, attractive or masculine these faces appeared to them.

Regardless of their age and gender, the members of this jury largely agreed on their ratings. Women with a high body fat content were classified as more dominant, while those with a low body fat content were classified as more submissive. That has to do with the proportions of the face. "In men, the area below the nose is on average larger than in women," says Sonja Windhager. In women with a higher percentage of body fat, however, this part of the face increases in size due to fat deposits. “That is why such morphs appear more masculine and often more dominant,” explains the researcher.

The golden mean looks attractive,
also in terms of fat

When it came to the attractiveness of the faces, on the other hand, the medium fat versions did the best. That could be a legacy from the early days of human history. Because back then, both very thin and very fat people were likely to have been at a disadvantage in terms of health and starting a family. So, in the course of evolution, the trend has established itself to opt for partners with a medium body fat percentage - and to find them attractive.

A pronounced jaw appears masculine and dominant

In addition to fat, there are many other factors that influence the appearance of a face. The Viennese researchers, together with colleagues from Germany and Russia, have investigated whether certain signs on a person's face can be used to infer their physical strength. In fact, such a connection was found in European men as well as in Maasai men and women in Tanzania. Stronger people had rounder, more robust faces and a pronounced jawline. European test subjects often rated such faces as male and dominant, but not necessarily as very attractive.

Sonja Windhager is not surprised that such studies in such different regions of the world as Austria and Tanzania come to very similar results. On the one hand, the basic arrangement of fat pads and muscle cords is similar in all people. On the other hand, our ancestors faced the same social challenges everywhere:

"It was very important for her to be able to assess characteristics such as the strength and dominance of her counterpart as quickly as possible."

If you didn't want to risk a bloody nose, you had to behave accordingly. Provoking superior opponents has never been a good idea. So you needed a few rough rules of thumb with the help of which you could quickly classify your fellow human beings. One or the other of them may have changed due to cultural influences. The basic stereotyped thinking seems to work in a very similar way around the world to this day.

Cars are judged similarly to people

Mankind has internalized these mechanisms, which have been tried and tested in evolution, in such a way that they can also be used in completely unsuitable situations. Windhager and colleagues found out that many judge the front of vehicles according to criteria similar to those of human faces. Cars with a wide chassis and a wide bonnet, but a small windshield, are considered to be dominant.

Pretty children get better grades

That may be harmless. In other cases, however, the uncritical application of the rules of thumb handed down from evolution has far-reaching consequences. Because it can lead to people being pigeonholed. Teachers tend to judge the same text better if it comes from a more attractive child. The same applies to applications: Candidates whose photo suggests that they are overweight are less likely to be invited to an interview. Sonja Windhager advocates training teachers and personnel decision-makers in order to make them aware of the pitfalls of the evolutionarily anchored gut feeling. Because not every rule that has proven itself in evolution fits into the modern world: "Today the strongest is no longer the most dangerous, but the one with the red button for the atomic bomb."