Study: Facial width predicts racial prejudice

The wider your face, the more likely you are to be a racist? The Nazis did this type of crap to assess racial purity. Now a Dartmouth post-doc is doing it to assess racist tendencies? Really?

The media release is below.

February 13, 2013
For Immediate Release
Contact: Anna Mikulak
Association for Psychological Science
Facial Structure May Predict Endorsement of Racial Prejudice

Related Topics: Attitude, Face Perception, Facial Features, Intergroup Relations, Personality/Social, Prejudice, Psychological Science, Racism, Social Behavior

The structure of a man’s face may indicate his tendency to express racially prejudiced beliefs, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Studies have shown that facial width-to-height ratio (fWHR) is associated with testosterone-related behaviors, which some researchers have linked with aggression. But psychological scientist Eric Hehman of Dartmouth College and colleagues at the University of Delaware speculated that these behaviors may have more to do with social dominance than outright aggression.

The researchers decided to examine the relationship between fWHR and dominance in the specific context of racial prejudice.

“Racial prejudice is such a sensitive issue and there are societal pressures to appear nonprejudiced. More dominant individuals might care less about appearing prejudiced, or exercise less self-regulation with regard to reporting those prejudices, should they exist,” says Hehman, who conducted the research as a graduate student at the University of Delaware.

The researchers asked male participants about their willingness to express racially prejudiced beliefs and about the pressure they feel to adhere to societal norms. The results revealed that men who have higher fWHR (determined from photos of their faces) are more likely to express racist remarks and are less concerned about how others perceive those remarks.

Importantly, these results did not show that the men were necessarily more prejudiced — men with greater fWHR did not score higher on measures that assessed implicit, or more automatic, racial prejudice. Rather, these men were simply more likely to express any prejudicial beliefs they may have had.

“Not all people with greater fWHRs are prejudiced, and not all those with smaller fWHRs are non-prejudiced,” says Hehman. “You could think about it as a ‘side effect’ of social dominance — men with greater fWHR may not care as much about what others think of them.”

Results from a second study suggest that observers actually perceive and use fWHR when evaluating another person’s degree of prejudice.

Looking at the photos from the first study, a new group of participants evaluated men with wider, shorter faces as more prejudiced, and they were able to accurately estimate the target’s self-reported prejudicial beliefs just by looking at an image of his face. The results were confirmed in a third study.

The third study also showed that non-White participants, whose outcomes are more likely to be influenced by their race or ethnicity, were more motivated to accurately assess targets’ prejudice. This greater motivation, in turn, was associated with increased accuracy. The finding is consistent with the idea that people allocate their attention to stimuli that can influence their outcomes.

Together, these three studies add to a growing literature exploring how people perceive and accurately infer personality characteristics based on physical appearance.

“This research provides the first evidence for a facial metric that not only predicts important and controversial social behaviors, such as reporting prejudices, but can also be used by others to make accurate judgments,” says Hehman.

These studies may open up new avenues of research; Hehman and colleagues speculate that fWHR may be linked with explicit prejudice on a number of different dimensions beyond race.

In addition to Hehman, authors on the study include Jordan B. Leitner, Matthew P. Deegan, and Samuel L. Gaertner, all of the University of Delaware.

For more information about this study, please contact: Eric Hehman at

20 thoughts on “Study: Facial width predicts racial prejudice”

  1. There is no question of bias because there are profound differences between male and female behaviour. This study essentially says, “dominant males are less likely to inhibit their instincts” (who would have thought?), and it simply uses racial sensitivity as a benchmark to demonstrate that.

    Women are probably rather more sensitive to a male’s race (and much less sensitive to women’s), but there does not seem to be a simple test to reveal the principles of selection they follow (and they will not tell you). Plus, their notion of race may be totally different from ours. They may be selecting you (or not) based on the size of the hat you’re wearing.

  2. It wouldn’t be all bad, Cassandra Cain, the half-Chinese Batgirl, was the best of the 4 to wear that cowl.

  3. It’s curious to me that the studies sited only evaluated men….. Hmmmm. Are women exempt from racial bigotry? Wouldn’t this oversight bias the studies? Will Batman now have to be played by a mniority race woman?!

  4. Howdy harrie
    Turtledoves are highly territorial and have been known to pluck each other’s feathers, leaving the victim bloody.

  5. If a wide face indicates a racist, then most black and Hispanic people would be racist. Something that is politically incorrect. In the real world racisim is a human problem, not just a white problem. I’ve seen Blacks hating HIspanics and vice versa. I’ve seen both Blacks and Hispanics hating Asians and White people. If you are obsessed with “race”, you are a racist! And this goes double for the do gooder white race baiting liberals.

  6. “Tucci. Do you truly think anyone would follow your lead while you rant like a madman?”

    Dunno. But I’m sure that nobody’s gonna “follow your lead” while you soil your knickers quivering like a craven waiting to get rolled.

    Can’t you even simulate growing a backbone, bubbie?

  7. “Tucci, tone it down.”

    Nope. Considering what our Murdering Marxist Mulignane has done, and where he’s going with his lawlessness, might I ask why you’re not calling upon your countrymen to dial it up?

  8. “If you despise him because he is, in fact, part black, I’m surprised and sad. But I think it’s A.”

    It is, in fact, “A” – but I’ve been told that if I despise and oppose our carefully manufactured HNIC for any reason, I’m automatically a “racist.”

    Might as well embrace the suck, no?

  9. i’ll agree with the others. The interpretation is horribly wrong, but there is a line of reason behind the madness.

  10. Howdy T78
    If you despise our current president for being an arrogant, ignorant nanny-bully who tramples our rights and our economy while making us weaker for our enemies to attack, then we’re quite in agreement.
    If you despise him because he’s been portrayed as “black”, but is in fact about 75% Caucasian and is not the child of America’s slavery experience, I’m sort-of on board.
    If you despise him because he is, in fact, part black, I’m surprised and sad. B ut I think it’s A.

  11. I’d once thought myself entirely free of racial animosity, and then that Indonesian illegal immigrant, Michelle’s Mocha Metrosexual Meatpuppet came to public prominence as our first “post-racial” criminally unconstitutional substitute for a legitimate president, and suddenly I find myself wallowing in my “racism.”

    If it’s “racist” to hate our Fraudulence-in-Chief, I’ll wear the badge (and the Ku-Kluxer’s white hood, too with unabashed equanimity.

    Except, of course, for the fact that the Klan doesn’t allow Roman Catholics to join.


  12. Howdy Gene
    I found myself thinking along the same lines as you. Personality has genetic components, or seems to at least, and some of these components seem to link to physical features, some more reliably than others and all kind of fishy.
    I’d add this. If you divide any group into subgroups, then measure a parameter in the subgroups like height, number of coins in pockets, month when drivers’ licenses expire, the subgroups are likely to produce different results. The differences between the groups will usually be smaller than the differences within the groups. Only sometimes is the difference between groups genuinely significant.

  13. This study does not seem to be junk, just from the description of it. The description itself is contaminated with junk words, but it seems to convey the idea properly.

    Here, “prejudice” is a synonym for “instinct”, and a bad one at that (I regard it as a misdirection). All animals are racist, due to an instinct encoded in them. You can’t have babies born without any racial sensitivity, unless they are born with some sort of mental damage. Now, we civilised humans like to meddle with nature and we consciously suppress those instincts that we feel make us unhappy.

    It is an essential characteristic of a dominant individual (what’s “socially dominant, by the way?) that he does not suppress his instincts too well. And, like other instincts, the propensity for dominance is encoded or modified during development under the influence of hormones and other regulatory factors. It could well be that the same factors affect the facial features.

    Further, it should not be extremely difficult to link facial features with dominance, because both are factors in sexual selection, and since females tend to prefer dominant males, the association is very likely to be amplified with time.

    Can’t conclude anything without seeing the data, but it is not unreasonable to think this way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.