What are recent theories on the relation between personality and facial or body shape, and are there studies to support them?

See Wikipedia on physiognomy and somatotypes & constitutional psychology for background.

I would be most happy if you could go beyond the well-known facts about intelligence and beauty.


1 Answer 1


Facial shape

Aggression relates to facial width-to-height ratio (Carré, McCormick, & Mondloch, 2009; Carré & McCormick, 2008). The width-to-height ratio is the distance between the left and right zygion (the outside of the cheek bone) divided by the distance between the top of the upper lip and the mid-brow. Here's a useful image displaying the meaning of this ratio from the 2009 article:

Carré et al. found that the lower the width-to-height ratio, i.e. the shorter the distance between lip and brow in relation to the distance from cheekbone to cheekbone, the more aggressive the person is (as measured through a well-validated laboratory task) and is perceived by strangers.

Also, the Big Five differ in observability (Penton-Voak, Pound, Little, & Perrett, 2006). Participants were asked to rate the Big 5 aspects of the personality of strangers. There was a strong agreement between these ratings and the results of a personality test the depicted persons had filled in (reliability calculated as Cronbach's $\alpha=.70\text{–}.89$ for all dimensions, only male conscientiousness was $.63)$. Similar results were found with composite images.

Here are some composite facial images from that article:

Differences are subtle, but perceptible! BTW, I think I came across this from The Personality Puzzle (Funder, 1997) originally, but I'm not 100% certain.

Some of these facial differences may relate to testosterone. Dominance and masculinity relate to perceptible differences in male facial shape due to the prenatal influence of testosterone, but fortunately for the scope of this answer, these differences do not affect attractiveness to females (Neave, Laing, Fink, & Manning, 2003; Swaddle & Reierson, 2002).

Body shape

Body mass index

There is some evidence that body mass index (BMI) relates to higher extraversion and psychoticism and lower neuroticism in middle-aged Japanese people (Kakizaki et al., 2008), impulsivity (Murphy, Stojek, & MacKillop, 2014; first citation of the new year!), hypomania (Valenti, Omizo, & Mehl-Madrona, 2011), and worse cognitive executive functioning (Gunstad et al., 2007). However, one study did not find a relationship between BMI and personality psychopathology (Picot & Lilenfeld, 2003). Another study found a positive relationship between neuroticism and BMI in middle-aged American women only (the opposite of the relationship in the Japanese population according to Kakizaki et al., who did not mention prominent sex differences) and extraversion among men only (same direction as in Kakizaki et al., but again, more sex differences), as well as negative relationships with openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness (Brummett et al., 2006). Low conscientiousness related more strongly to BMI in women, and predicted BMI increases over time.


Another set of correlations between personality and body shape are mediated by testosterone, which affects several, readily observable, physical characteristics, including muscle mass, bone length, vocal pitch and tone, hair growth patterns, body odor, dermal oil secretion and acne, subcutaneous facial fat and facial bone contours, and prominence of the Adam's apple. Testosterone relates to many behavioral patterns in romantic relations, the general trend being toward more competitive promiscuity and less long-term fidelity with increasing testosterone (e.g., Burnham et al., 2003). Testosterone increases in men anticipating competition, but may decrease in women (Mazur, Susman, & Edelbrock, 1997). This effect may be moderated by implicit power motivation (Schultheiss, Campbell, & McClelland, 1999); if so, it's conceivable that personality could affect appearance over time by altering testosterone levels. Power motivation interacts in complex ways with sex and the outcome of social contexts in affecting testosterone (Schultheiss et al., 2005; Schultheiss, Wirth, & Stanton, 2004).

One of the underlying personality differences associated with testosterone appears to be in sexual motivation, which manifests in non-human animals as well. Testosterone also relates to sensation-seeking (Roberti, 2004; Gerra et al., 1999; Daitzman & Zuckerman, 1980; Zuckerman, Buchsbaum, & Murphy, 1980) and risk tolerance (Sapienza, Zingales, & Maestripieri, 2009; Stanton et al., 2011; Stanton, Liening, & Schultheiss, 2011), though the relationship exhibits some complexities across domains of risk (Stenstrom, Saad, Nepomuceno, & Mendenhall, 2011). The relationship between testosterone and risk aversion may be mediated by abstract reasoning ability (Brañas-Garza & Rustichini, 2011).

Testosterone also relates to dominance (Mazur & Booth, 1998), aggression (Archer, 2006; Birger et al., 2003; Ehrenkranz, Bliss, & Sheard, 1974; Archer, Birring, & Wu, 1998), and lack of empathy, the last of which appears to be an empirically established effect of testosterone (Chapman et al., 2006; Knickmeyer, Baron-Cohen, Raggatt, Taylor, & Hackett, 2006; van Honk et al., 2011; Ronay & Carney, 2013; see also Auyeung & Baron-Cohen, 2013). Testosterone may even explain deficits in social development (Knickmeyer & Baron-Cohen, 2006) and autistic traits in general (Auyeung et al., 2009; Ingudomnukul, Baron-Cohen, Wheelwright, & Knickmeyer, 2007), according to a theory that conceptualizes autism as extreme cognitive maleness (Baron-Cohen, 2002; Baron-Cohen, Knickmeyer, & Belmonte, 2005; Chakrabarti et al., 2009).

Testosterone relates positively to emotional arousal and anger, but also relates positively to attentiveness to angry facial expressions in others (van Honk et al., 1999). This latter result demonstrates that testosterone doesn't unilaterally decrease awareness of others' emotional states, especially to whatever extent they pose immediate threat. The relationship between testosterone and antisocial behavior is also moderated by socioeconomic status (Dabbs & Morris, 1990). These complexities may limit the otherwise impressive relationships between personality and testosterone.

In women, estradiol may instead play a similar role to testosterone in men, modifying dominance motivation (Stanton & Schultheiss, 2009). Wikipedia lists some observable physiological effects of estradiol, but these claims currently lack supporting citations.

References (there's a ton; I recommend zooming in with Ctrl++ or copy-pasting into a word processor)
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· Archer, J., Birring, S. S., & Wu, F. C. (1998). The association between testosterone and aggression among young men: Empirical findings and a meta‐analysis. Aggressive Behavior, 24(6), 411–420.
· Auyeung, B., Baron‐Cohen, S., Ashwin, E., Knickmeyer, R., Taylor, K., & Hackett, G. (2009). Fetal testosterone and autistic traits. British Journal of Psychology, 100(1), 1–22. Retrieved from http://www.personal.rdg.ac.uk/~sxs02dtf/auyeung2009.pdf.
· Auyeung, B., & Baron‐Cohen, S. (2013). Prenatal and postnatal testosterone effects on human social and emotional behavior. In S. Baron-Cohen, M. Lombardo, H. Tager-Flusberg, & D. Cohen (Eds.), Understanding Other Minds: Perspectives from developmental social neuroscience. Oxford University Press.
· Baron-Cohen, S. (2002). The extreme male brain theory of autism. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 6(6), 248–254. Retrieved from http://cogsci.bme.hu/~ivady/bscs/read/bc.pdf.
· Baron-Cohen, S., Knickmeyer, R. C., & Belmonte, M. K. (2005). Sex differences in the brain: implications for explaining autism. Science, 310(5749), 819–823. Retrieved from http://docentes.cs.urjc.es/~odeluis/Docencia/ABP/Articulos/baroncohen.pdf.
· Birger, M., Swartz, M., Cohen, D., Alesh, Y. A., Grishpan, C., & Kotelr, M. (2003). Aggression: The testosterone-serotonin link. IMAJ-RAMAT GAN-, 5(9), 653–658. Retrieved from http://www.ima.org.il/FilesUpload/IMAJ/0/54/27288.pdf.
· Brañas-Garza, P., & Rustichini, A. (2011). Organizing effects of testosterone and economic behavior: Not just risk taking. PLoS ONE, 6(12), e29842. Retrieved from http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0029842#pone-0029842-g001.
· Brummett, B. H., Babyak, M. A., Williams, R. B., Barefoot, J. C., Costa, P. T., & Siegler, I. C. (2006). NEO personality domains and gender predict levels and trends in body mass index over 14 years during midlife. Journal of Research in Personality, 40(3), 222–236. Retrieved from ResearchGate.
· Burnham, T. C., Chapman, J. F., Gray, P. B., McIntyre, M. H., Lipson, S. F., & Ellison, P. T. (2003). Men in committed, romantic relationships have lower testosterone. Hormones and Behavior, 44(2), 119–122. Retrieved from http://www.bec.ucla.edu/papers/Gray_10-20-03.pdf.
· Carré, J. M., & McCormick, C. M. (2008). In your face: Facial metrics predict aggressive behaviour in the laboratory and in varsity and professional hockey players. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 275(1651), 2651–2656. Retrieved from http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/275/1651/2651.full.pdf%20html.
· Carré, J. M., McCormick, C. M., & Mondloch, C. J. (2009). Facial structure is a reliable cue of aggressive behavior. Psychological Science, 20(10), 1194–1198. Retrieved from http://carrelab.com/Carre_et_al_2009_Psyc_Sci.pdf.
· Chakrabarti, B., Dudbridge, F., Kent, L., Wheelwright, S., Hill‐Cawthorne, G., Allison, C., ... & Baron‐Cohen, S. (2009). Genes related to sex steroids, neural growth, and social–emotional behavior are associated with autistic traits, empathy, and Asperger syndrome. Autism Research, 2(3), 157–177. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/aur.80/full.
· Chapman, E., Baron-Cohen, S., Auyeung, B., Knickmeyer, R., Taylor, K., & Hackett, G. (2006). Fetal testosterone and empathy: Evidence from the empathy quotient (EQ) and the “reading the mind in the eyes” test. Social Neuroscience, 1(2), 135–148. Retrieved from http://docs.autismresearchcentre.com/papers/2006_Chapman_etal.pdf.
· Daitzman, R. J., & Zuckerman, M. (1980). Disinhibitory sensation seeking and gonadal hormones. Personality and Individual Differences, 1, 103–110.
· Dabbs, J. M., & Morris, R. (1990). Testosterone, social class, and antisocial behavior in a sample of 4,462 men. Psychological Science, 1(3), 209–211. Retrieved from http://connect.issaquah.wednet.edu/cfs-file.ashx/__key/telligent-evolution-components-attachments/13-8431-00-00-00-04-77-28/Testosterone-and-Antisocial-behavior.pdf
· Ehrenkranz, J., Bliss, E., & Sheard, M. H. (1974). Plasma testosterone: Correlation with aggressive behavior and social dominance in man. Psychosomatic Medicine, 36(6), 469–475.
· Funder, D. C. (1997). The personality puzzle. W. W. Norton & Co.
· Gerra, G., Avanzini, P., Zaimovic, A., Sartori, R., Bocchi, C., Timpano, M., Zambelli, U., Delsignore, R., Gardini, F., Talarico, E., & Brambilla, F. (1999). Neurotransmitters, neuroendocrine correlates of sensation-seeking temperament in normal humans. Neuropsychobiology, 39, 207–213.
· Gunstad, J., Paul, R. H., Cohen, R. A., Tate, D. F., Spitznagel, M. B., & Gordon, E. (2007). Elevated body mass index is associated with executive dysfunction in otherwise healthy adults. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 48(1), 57–61. Retrieved from http://postcog.ucd.ie/files/Gunsted.pdf.
· Ingudomnukul, E., Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., & Knickmeyer, R. (2007). Elevated rates of testosterone-related disorders in women with autism spectrum conditions. Hormones and Behavior, 51(5), 597–604. Retrieved from http://beyond-belief.org.uk/sites/beyond-belief.org.uk/files/Baron-Cohen%20hormonesandbehavior.pdf.
· Kakizaki, M., Kuriyama, S., Sato, Y., Shimazu, T., Matsuda-Ohmori, K., Nakaya, N., ... & Tsuji, I. (2008). Personality and body mass index: A cross-sectional analysis from the Miyagi Cohort Study. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 64(1), 71–80.
· Knickmeyer, R. C., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2006). Fetal testosterone and sex differences. Early Human Development, 82(12), 755–760.
· Knickmeyer, R., Baron-Cohen, S., Raggatt, P., Taylor, K., & Hackett, G. (2006). Fetal testosterone and empathy. Hormones and Behavior, 49(3), 282–292. Retrieved from http://www.researchgate.net/publication/7540638_Fetal_testosterone_and_empathy/file/50463515da285cea18.pdf.
· Mazur, A., & Booth, A. (1998). Testosterone and dominance in men. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 21(3), 353–363. Retrieved from http://cogprints.org/663/1/bbs_mazur.html.
· Mazur, A., Susman, E. J., & Edelbrock, S. (1997). Sex difference in testosterone response to a video game contest. Evolution and Human Behavior, 18(5), 317–326. Retrieved from http://cogprints.org/630/1/Pong.html.
· Murphy, C. M., Stojek, M. K., & MacKillop, J. (2014). Interrelationships among impulsive personality traits, food addiction, and Body Mass Index. Appetite, 73, 45–50.
· Neave, N., Laing, S., Fink, B., & Manning, J. T. (2003). Second to fourth digit ratio, testosterone and perceived male dominance. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 270(1529), 2167–2172. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1691489/pdf/14561281.pdf.
· Penton-Voak, I. S., Pound, N., Little, A. C., & Perrett, D. I. (2006). Personality judgments from natural and composite facial images: More evidence for a “kernel of truth” in social perception. Social Cognition, 24(5), 607–640. Retrieved from http://www.alittlelab.stir.ac.uk/pubs/Penton-Voak_06_kernaloftruth_SocCog.pdf.
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· Ronay, R., & Carney, D. R. (2013). Testosterone’s negative relationship with empathic accuracy and perceived leadership ability. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 4(1), 92–99. Retrieved from http://faculty.haas.berkeley.edu/dana_carney/published.Ronay%26Carney.2012.SPPS.pdf.
· Sapienza, P., Zingales, L., & Maestripieri, D. (2009). Gender differences in financial risk aversion and career choices are affected by testosterone. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(36), 15268–15273. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2741240/.
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· Schultheiss, O. C., Wirth, M. M., & Stanton, S. J. (2004). Effects of affiliation and power motivation arousal on salivary progesterone and testosterone. Hormones and Behavior, 46(5), 592–599. Retrieved from http://www.psych2.phil.uni-erlangen.de/~oschult/humanlab/publications/sws2004hb.pdf.
· Schultheiss, O. C., Wirth, M. M., Torges, C. M., Pang, J. S., Villacorta, M. A., & Welsh, K. M. (2005). Effects of implicit power motivation on men's and women's implicit learning and testosterone changes after social victory or defeat. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88(1), 174–188. Retrieved from http://www.psych2.phil.uni-erlangen.de/~oschult/humanlab/publications/s2005jpsp.pdf.
· Stanton, S. J., Liening, S. H., & Schultheiss, O. C. (2011). Testosterone is positively associated with risk taking in the Iowa Gambling Task. Hormones and Behavior, 59(2), 252–256. Retrieved from http://www.scottliening.com/research/publications/StantonLieningSchultheiss_HB.pdf.
· Stanton, S. J., O’Dhaniel, A., McLaurin, R. E., Kuhn, C. M., LaBar, K. S., Platt, M. L., & Huettel, S. A. (2011). Low-and high-testosterone individuals exhibit decreased aversion to economic risk. Psychological Science, 22(4), 447–453. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3653580/.
· Stanton, S. J., & Schultheiss, O. C. (2009). The hormonal correlates of implicit power motivation. Journal of Research in Personality, 43(5), 942–949. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2818294/.
· Stenstrom, E., Saad, G., Nepomuceno, M. V., & Mendenhall, Z. (2011). Testosterone and domain-specific risk: Digit ratios (2D: 4D and rel2) as predictors of recreational, financial, and social risk-taking behaviors. Personality and Individual Differences, 51(4), 412–416.
· Swaddle, J. P., & Reierson, G. W. (2002). Testosterone increases perceived dominance but not attractiveness in human males. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 269(1507), 2285–2289. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1691166/pdf/12495494.pdf.
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· van Honk, J., Schutter, D. J., Bos, P. A., Kruijt, A. W., Lentjes, E. G., & Baron-Cohen, S. (2011). Testosterone administration impairs cognitive empathy in women depending on second-to-fourth digit ratio. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(8), 3448–3452. Retrieved from http://www.researchgate.net/publication/49817064_Testosterone_administration_impairs_cognitive_empathy_in_women_depending_on_second-to-fourth_digit_ratio/file/d912f50b5d773ca9e0.pdf.
· van Honk, J., Tuiten, A., Verbaten, R., van den Hout, M., Koppeschaar, H., Thijssen, J., & de Haan, E. (1999). Correlations among salivary testosterone, mood, and selective attention to threat in humans. Hormones and Behavior, 36(1), 17–24.
· Zuckerman, M., Buchsbaum, M. S., & Murphy, D. L. (1980). Sensation seeking and its biological correlates. Psychological Bulletin, 88(1), 187–214.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Wow, I can even see the differences in the depicted faces! It's kind of frightening that some of our prejudices might actually be truthful perceptions. I'm not sure I want to look in the mirror tonight ... || +1, @Nick. Now I wait to see if someone comes up with something about body shape. $\endgroup$
    – user3116
    Feb 16, 2014 at 11:52
  • $\begingroup$ Hm, in the link you provide for lower empathy, it is equated with emotion and thought recognition (based on facial expressions). On the other hand this contradicts "This latter result demonstrates that testosterone doesn't unilaterally decrease awareness of others' emotional states". $\endgroup$
    – rus9384
    Jun 19, 2018 at 15:09

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