Menu Close

Study links face shape to lying

Do not trust this face. New research links wide faces to lying and cheating. Flickr/Jake Mates

Men with wide faces are more likely to lie and cheat to get ahead than their narrow-faced brethren, according to new research.

However, the study has drawn criticism from psychologists who say it may have underestimated other factors driving behaviour.

In a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee found that wide-faced men tend to report feeling more powerful, but that this can embolden them to lie in business or cheat to make more money.

“For the first time, we show that persistent physical traits can indeed predict unethical actions,” the paper said.

“Across two studies, we demonstrate that men with wider faces (relative to facial height) are more likely to explicitly deceive their counterparts in a negotiation, and are more willing to cheat in order to increase their financial gain.”

“Importantly, we provide evidence that the link between facial metrics and unethical behaviour is mediated by a psychological sense of power.”

In one experiment, 192 Masters of Business Administration students (of which 115 were men) participated in a Bullard Houses negotiation exercise, where one played the role of a property seller and the other a potential buyer. The seller was under instructions not to sell if the property is to be used for a commercial development, while the buyer was asked to try to get the property without revealing their secret plan to turn it into a hotel.

“Our interest in this study was whether the buyer explicitly misstated his or her intentions to the seller,” the paper said.

Men with wider faces were approximately three times as likely to explicitly deceive their negotiation partners than narrow-faced men, the results showed. For the women, there was no link between facial width and deception.

In another study, 103 subjects (of which 50 were men) were asked to fill in a survey which included questions about how powerful they felt, then enter a lottery to win a $50 gift card.

The number of times they were allowed to enter the lottery depended on the score obtained by rolling a simulated dice on a website – rolling a higher score meant they could boost their chances of winning a prize. But a deliberate design flaw allowed the subjects to cheat by ignoring the score they rolled and enter a higher number.

Men with wider faces cheated more and overstated their dice results by an estimated 18.6% and survey results showed they were more likely to report that they felt powerful.

“If men with greater facial width-to-height ratios are treated in ways that make them feel more powerful, this may foster a psychological sense of power which then affects ethical judgement and behaviour,” the authors wrote.

“Thus, future research should carefully examine the ways in which facial morphology relates to facial perceptions, and the effect of this relationship on psychological traits and ethical behaviour.”

“Perhaps some men truly are bad to the bone.”

However, the experiments may have failed to take into account longer term issues affecting behaviour and the environmental factors influencing how certain genes were expressed, said Dr Carolyn Semmler from the University of Adelaide’s School of Psychology.

“The authors of this study have not examined how the facial features of these males as children may have shaped their parents’ behaviour toward them or anyone else’s behaviour, for that matter,” she said.

“To establish this relationship and understand the interactions, you would need to have followed these men from birth, assessing all of their interactions with the social and physical world.”

Dr Semmler also pointed out that the subjects in the first experiment were all from an MBA course.

“They are hardly likely to be the group most representative of the population in terms of moral behaviour. There is a clear selection bias,” she said.

Want to write?

Write an article and join a growing community of more than 170,900 academics and researchers from 4,738 institutions.

Register now