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The face of success

06 June 2013 British Psychological Society (BPS)

Top UK male business leaders show dominant traits in their faces.

This is the finding of research by Professor Jamie Ward and Shuaa Alrajih and from the University of Sussex that will be published in the British Journal of Psychology today, 7 June.

The study focussed on the link between the facial width-to-height ratio (FWH) and dominance in men.  Participants were asked to rate different aspects of the personalities of 100 men using a single photograph.

FWH is measured as the maximum horizontal distance from the left facial boundary to the right facial boundary (width) divided by the distance from the top of the lip to the highest point of the eyelids (height).  It has been suggested that development of this facial characteristic is related to differences in adolescent levels of testosterone, a hormone known to be involved in socially dominating behaviour.

In the study 30 participants viewed photos of 93 Chief Executive Officers’s (CEO) from the top 100 FTSE companies (minus seven female CEO’s) and were asked to judge their personality on gut instinct.  Participants were not told who the men were and images were excluded if any were noted as familiar.

They rated the faces on scales relating to: dominance, trustworthiness, aggression, attraction and success. The photos were taken from company websites and contained only the head and neck. Another set of 93 photos were taken from internet (such as university websites) to act as a control group.

The results showed that the CEO’s faces had a greater FWH ratio compared to the control group and were perceived as more dominant and successful.

Professor Ward concluded: “There are two possible explanations for this finding. Either FWH is a reliable marker of a person’s dominant personality or that we are more likely to select leaders with this trait. On balance the evidence is most consistent with the former. We know from previous research that men with higher FWH behave in a more competitive way suggesting the difference lies within them rather than others. This finding provides evidence for a link between business leadership and FWH; further research is required to establish if social dominance is the mediating psychological trait.”

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