The Face of Strength – The Facial Features That Predict Dominance
Christopher Philip

Research finds that perceptions of bodily strength is predictable from faces alone. This according to researchers Hugo Toscano, Universitário de Lisboa, Thomas W. Schubert, University of Oslo, Norway and Aaron Sell, Griffith University, Australia.

Someone who maintains a high rank in society is referred to as dominant. In animals, as in humans, this social rank provides benefit due to an unequal division of resources. We see this in animals that form hierarchies similar to our species including chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas. In humans, our leaders are readily visible and often receive special treatment and the lions share of our cultures resources.

Research has found that part of dominance is related to bodily strength. We also tend to judge faces for dominance with part of this related to perceived age, but another part has to do with a face’s overall morphology.

For example, faces which tend to retain more baby-like characteristics tend to be rated far less dominant, than others who share more mature features. The prototypical “babyface” in adulthood has large eyes, high eyebrows, small chin, round jaw, and high forehead. A dominant prototypical face has small eyes, low brows, large chin, a more angular face and a low forehead.

That we confer dominance to one person over another is likely related to the fact that physical strength played an important role in the past, not only procuring resources, but also defending their theft – not to mention defending a mate as well as offspring. While strength is not nearly as important in modern cultures, we are still likely wired to take relevant strength cues passively into account when making judgments about others.

In the current study, Schubert and Sell tested whether perceived physical strength is related to dominance judgments found in the face. They also sought to define which facial features were common predictors of perceived strength and dominance.

The results showed that when subjects judged computer-generated faces it was found that perceptions of strength and ratings of dominance were closely related.

The data also showed which features of the face predicted perceptions of strength and dominance. They include relative brow height, eye length, chin length and the width of the nose and mouth. Specifically, dominance is evident by low brows, narrow eyes, a large chin, wide nose and a narrow mouth.

The data also showed that perceived strength from faces was predictive of actual upper-body strength. Thus, rating for dominance by examining the face is an accurate method to determine bodily strength.

“In sum,” say the researchers “we extend the knowledge related with the notion that dominance and strength ratings go hand in hand, even when collecting these data from different participants and when tested on computer-generated and natural faces. Dominance judgments are based on strength ratings, backed up by the findings that actual bodily strength predicts dominance.”


Toscano, Hugo; Thomas W. Schubert and Aaron N. Sell. Judgments of Dominance from the Face Track Physical Strength. Evolutionary Psychology. 2014. 12(1): 1-18