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Effects of sexual dimorphism on facial attractiveness

Naturevolume 394pages884887 (1998) | Download Citation



Testosterone-dependent secondary sexual characteristics in males may signal immunological competence1 and are sexually selected for in several species2,3. In humans, oestrogen-dependent characteristics of the female body correlate with health and reproductive fitness and are found attractive4,5,6. Enhancing the sexual dimorphism of human faces should raise attractiveness by enhancing sex-hormone-related cues to youth and fertility in females5,7,8,9,10,11, and to dominance and immunocompetence in males5,12,13. Here we report the results of asking subjects to choose the most attractive faces from continua that enhanced or diminished differences between the average shape of female and male faces. As predicted, subjects preferred feminized to average shapes of a female face. This preference applied across UK and Japanese populations but was stronger for within-population judgements, which indicates that attractiveness cues are learned. Subjects preferred feminized to average or masculinized shapes of a male face. Enhancing masculine facial characteristics increased both perceived dominance and negative attributions (for example, coldness or dishonesty) relevant to relationships and paternal investment. These results indicate a selection pressure that limits sexual dimorphism and encourages neoteny in humans.

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This work was supported by Unilever Research and the ESRC. We thank A. Whiten, R. Byrne, R. Barton, J. Lycett, S. Reicher, D. Carey, M. Ridley, J. Graves and D. Symons for comments.

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Author notes

    • K. J. Lee

    Present address: Department of Psychology, University of Western Australia, Nedlands, Western Australia, 6907, Australia


  1. School of Psychology, University of St Andrews, KY16 9JU, Fife, UK

    • D. I. Perrett
    • , K. J. Lee
    • , I. Penton-Voak
    • , D. Rowland
    •  & D. M. Burt
  2. Department of Cognitive Psychology in Education, Graduate School of Education, Kyoto University, Sakyo, 606-8501, Kyoto, Japan

    • S. Yoshikawa
  3. ATR, Human Information Processing Research Laboratories, 2-2 Hikari-dai, Soraku-gun, 619-02, Kyoto, Japan

    • S. Yoshikawa
    •  & S. Akamatsu
  4. Department of Psychology, University of Natal, King George V Avenue, 4001, Durban, South Africa

    • S. P. Henzi
  5. Department of Life Sciences, Hasegawa Laboratory, University of Tokyo, Komaba, 153, Tokyo, Japan

    • D. L. Castles


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Correspondence to D. I. Perrett.

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