Human Adaptations for the Visual Assessment of Strength and Fighting Ability from the Body and Face

Center for Evolutionary Psychology, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, USA.
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (Impact Factor: 5.05). 11/2008; 276(1656):575-84. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2008.1177
Source: PubMed


Selection in species with aggressive social interactions favours the evolution of cognitive mechanisms for assessing physical formidability (fighting ability or resource-holding potential). The ability to accurately assess formidability in conspecifics has been documented in a number of non-human species, but has not been demonstrated in humans. Here, we report tests supporting the hypothesis that the human cognitive architecture includes mechanisms that assess fighting ability-mechanisms that focus on correlates of upper-body strength. Across diverse samples of targets that included US college students, Bolivian horticulturalists and Andean pastoralists, subjects in the US were able to accurately estimate the physical strength of male targets from photos of their bodies and faces. Hierarchical linear modelling shows that subjects were extracting cues of strength that were largely independent of height, weight and age, and that corresponded most strongly to objective measures of upper-body strength-even when the face was all that was available for inspection. Estimates of women's strength were less accurate, but still significant. These studies are the first empirical demonstration that, for humans, judgements of strength and judgements of fighting ability not only track each other, but accurately track actual upper-body strength.

Download full-text


Available from: Michael Gurven,
48 Reads
    • "From the perspective of evolutionary psychology, angry facial expression was consist of raising the upper lip and lowering the brow, the pattern of muscle activity will naturally make the facial width to height ratio increases (Carré and McCormick, 2008) [6]. At times of resource competition, it is critical to identify negative emotions quickly to ensure their survival and reproduction (Sell, et al., 2009) [39]. So we may conclude that cultivating the sensitivity to fWHR is to avoid physical attacks and gain resource in the evolution of mankind. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Facial-width-to-height ratio (fWHR) is a kind of facial feature that based on the overall facial information and can be specifically measured. fWHR is closely related to the individual aggressive. The present study reviewed previous researches on aggression and measurement of fWHR, and described the relationship between fWHR and aggression under the external and internal factors. Moreover, the researchers explained them from the perspective of cognition, physics and evolutionary. In the future, the studies can deepen these fields to enrich the theories and effectively prevent and control violence in society.
    Open Journal of Social Sciences 10/2015; 3(10):1-9. DOI:10.4236/jss.2015.310001
  • Source
    • "While trying to establish causal relationships between physical attributes and behaviour or personality has long been contentious (for opponents of Sheldeon see: Glueck & Glueck, 1956; Maddan, Walker, & Miller, 2008; Rafter, 2007), there is some evidence that supports a link that may be relevant for legal settings. In males, a positive relationship has been demonstrated between upper body strength and the likelihood of anger, physical altercations, belief in personal and political aggression, and success in conflict (Sell et al., 2009). Similarly, measures of upper body muscularity in males have been shown to correlate positively with proneness to anger and some forms of aggression (Price, Kang, Dunn, & Hopkins, 2011). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Body type is often overlooked as a basis for discrimination and has rarely been examined in legal contexts. The present research examined the role of body type on eyewitness line-up misidentification. Participants watched a video of a violent crime or theft and were asked to select the defendant out of a suspect-absent line-up. The lineup included digitally altered photos displaying muscular, normal weight, and overweight defendants. Muscular defendants were most likely to be mistakenly selected out of the simultaneous line-up, and overweight defendants were least likely to be selected. These results indicate that body type may be a biasing factor in comparative eyewitness evaluations.
    Psychiatry Psychology and Law 09/2015; DOI:10.1080/13218719.2015.1084664 · 0.35 Impact Factor
  • Source
    • "Using a different sample of women, Gallup and Wilson (2009) found that objective raters perceived the faces of adolescents with higher BMI to be more aggressive. Similarly, Sell et al. (2009) found that objective raters could accurately predict women's handgrip strength from photographs of their faces, and were even more accurate when making judgments from photographs of full bodies. In addition, Fessler et al. (2014) showed that when naïve participants were asked to choose which target body best depicted a described risk-prone woman, they were significantly more likely to choose a taller and larger target than when asked to choose which woman depicted a described risk-averse woman. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Several lines of evidence suggest that facial-width-to-height ratio (fWHR) provides an accurate cue to men's formidability, thus providing observers with a reliable estimate of their potential success in an interpersonal physical conflict. The degree to which fWHR provides the same information in women's faces, however, remains unclear. In fact, morphological characteristics, such as body size, may be more effective indicators of formidability in women. In the present study, we analyzed the effects of both fWHR and body mass index (BMI) on total number of fights and total number of wins in female competitive Ultimate Fighting Challenge (UFC) fighters. After controlling for number of active years fighting, we found that BMI significantly predicted number of wins in female fighters. The effects of fWHR were not significant, but warrant replication with a larger sample. These results suggest that in women, body size, rather than fWHR, may be a more accurate indicator of success in aggressive interpersonal conflicts. Our findings contribute to a growing body of literature that shows distinct differences in men and women's interpersonal aggressive and dominance behavior, as well as their morphological indicators. Keywords Facial width to height ratio (fWHR). Formidability. Physical strength. Female faces. Body mass index (BMI) Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology
    09/2015; DOI:10.1007/s40750-015-0035-3
Show more