Human preferences for sexually dimorphic faces may be evolutionarily novel

Isabel M. Scott, Andrew P. Clark, Steven C. Josephson, Adam H. Boyette, Innes C. Cuthill, Ruby L. Fried, Mhairi A. Gibson, Barry S. Hewlett, Mark Jamieson, William Jankowiak, P. Lynne Honey, Zejun Huang, Melissa A. Liebert, Benjamin G. Purzycki, John H. Shaver, J. Josh Snodgrass, Richard Sosis, Lawrence S. Sugiyama, Viren Swami, Douglas W. YuYangke Zhao, Ian S. Penton-voak

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A large literature proposes that preferences for exaggerated sex typicality in human faces (masculinity/femininity) reflect a long evolutionary history of sexual and social selection. This proposal implies that dimorphism was important to judgments of attractive- ness and personality in ancestral environments. It is difficult to evaluate, however, because most available data come from large- scale, industrialized, urban populations. Here, we report the results for 12 populations with very diverse levels of economic develop- ment. Surprisingly, preferences for exaggerated sex-specific traits are only found in the novel, highly developed environments. Sim- ilarly, perceptions that masculine males look aggressive increase strongly with development and, specifically, urbanization. These data challenge the hypothesis that facial dimorphism was an im- portant ancestral signal of heritable mate value. One possibility is that highly developed environments provide novel opportunities to discern relationships between facial traits and behavior by ex- posing individuals to large numbers of unfamiliar faces, revealing patterns too subtle to detect with smaller samples.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14388-14393
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS)
Issue number40
Publication statusPublished - 7 Oct 2014


  • facial attractiveness
  • evolution
  • cross-cultural
  • aggression
  • sterotyping

Cite this